Teen driving: The truth about consequences

HIRAM - It is not often that you can get over 1,700 high school students to sit in shocked silence.

But as inmate Jen Jilek shuffled into the room at Hiram College, the only sound you could hear were the shackles on her legs scraping against the floor.

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"My name is Jen", she began quietly, "(but) for the last seven years, I've been known as inmate number 81632. I'm serving ten years for aggravated vehicular homicide."

She told her story in simple straightforward terms, but a sense of regret echoed through almost every remark.

"This is not what I imagined my life to be like, or how I planned it to be like."

She told the story about how she drank one day, downing some shots, then drove three miles home into her subdivision, where she plowed into a 37 year-old woman and killed her.

"Her boyfriend was screaming,'someone call 911','  she said, holding back tears, "he was begging for his girlfriend to get up."

Jilek's speech was part of a nearly three-hour program put on by Portage County entitled "None 4 Under 21."

The goal is to drive home to teens just how devastating and long-lasting bad driving decisions can be.

At the conclusion of the event, the students file past the "Walk of Remembrance."

It consists of a long line of people standing next to large photos of loved-ones they've lost in traffic accidents.

It is a powerful moment, one that brought some teens to tears.

One of the people the teens encounter on the walk is Marc Streem, a UH nurse who had three sons, but lost his youngest, Ryan, at the age of 14 in an auto accident.

Streem also spoke to the teens, telling them Ryan spoke of his first Homecoming - but never lived to see it.

He encouraged students to remember that they will face decisions that won't just matter in the moment, but will make a difference in their lives "forever."

The final speaker at the event was Aaron Cooksey, a man from Stark County who is now in his late-30's.

Close to twenty years ago, Cooksey drove drunk, flipped his pickup truck, and killed his passenger, Andrea Calderone - his best friend.

After spending four years in prison, Cooksey has made it a mission in his life to talk to teens about driving choices.

"999 times out of a thousand, nothing bad will happen," he told the students at Hiram, "but that one time changed everything forever."

"Forever" is a long time, and a tough concept for teens to grasp. But, when it comes to driving, it's one that they have to get.

**More on our Distracted Driving special here**