• We are a society of slow learners

    Christopher Veloz, the 19 year-old accused of hosting a party where minors were served alcohol (against a Pacific Grove city ordinance), has pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and, in an agreement among the defense attorney, the City’s attorney and the judge was sentenced to six months in county jail, suspended for one year provided Veloz submits proof he has finished 40 hours of community service by Jan. 7. The case will likely be reviewed in September and Veloz may seek to have the suspended sentence lifted and the misdemeanor conviction converted to an infraction.

    This is not even a slap on the wrist. It’s more akin to a disapproving glance.

    Veloz, a minor himself, hosted the party apparently while his mother and stepfather were not at home. So where did he get the alcohol, or did his guests bring it with them? And where did they get it, if they indeed brought it with them?

    Witnesses say that he was asleep when Aaron Corn, 18 years old, took Veloz’s vehicle, allegedly without his permission, and crashed it, injuring four, including himself. Chelsie Hill, a passenger, was paralyzed and it’s anyone’s guess whether she’ll walk again.
    So how does a host sleep through a party, especially one where drinking teenagers are the guests?

    Corn, of course, is in Monterey County jail, held without bail, and facing charges of felony drunk driving causing injury and taking Veloz’s car without permission. He is a repeat offender, and was at the time of the accident on probation for an infraction which occurred when he was a juvenile. Many in town know what it was, and that it, too, involved drinking and driving. Mr. Corn is apparently a slow learner.

    Rumor has it that some of the victims’ friends were drinking at a party the following weekend. Rumor also has it, and there were photos on Facebook, that some of the victims have been to drinking parties since as well. “It’s OK,” I was told, when I confronted their parents. “There was a designated driver.” Designated driver? Hey, it’s against the law for people under 21 to drink whether they’re driving or not. Slow learners, the parents. Slow learners, the victims.

    Slow learners, too, the justice system.

    Thirteen years ago, on the Fourth of July, my friend’s 18 year-old son attended a party at a home in Boulder Creek. The parents were not around. There was alcohol. Bryce Kurek, the host, took four friends joy-riding in his parent’s car. He slammed the car into a tree. It burst into flames, suffocating and burning to death three (including my friend’s son) and maiming a fourth, none of whom could get their seatbelts undone in time to escape. Kurek was not hurt.

    I stayed by my friend through the ensuing months and the trial, running interference for her against the press and the curious, and reading testimony aloud for her when it came time for the penalty phase. Kurek pleaded guilty so thankfully there was not a trial, just the testimony around the penalty. He got eight years in prison.
    I remember people, including fellow students and friends of the dead boys, saying at the time, “Poor Bryce, he’ll live with their deaths for the rest of his life. Don’t be too hard on him.” One of the victims’ mother, a gentle woman to be sure, asked everyone to forgive him as he had surely suffered enough.

    In five years he was out, and in shortly thereafter was in court again, facing a DUI. He was 26 and still had not learned a thing.
    I don’t know what he’s doing with his life these days, but I see his name in the Men’s Club scores at Boulder Creek Country Club so apparently he has time to enjoy himself on the golf course. My friend’s son, a football player who worked with youth, who was looking forward to college and who was a Key Club member, is still dead.

    In less than a year, this young man in Pacific Grove will have picked up some litter, or whatever they assign him to do, and will likely apply to have his misdemeanor reduced to a mere infraction. Meanwhile, Chelsie will still be struggling to walk again, the parents will all be fighting a civil suit about money, and somewhere another 19 year-old will host another party and serve alcohol to minors.

    There will, I guess, always be slow learners.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 2, 2010

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Columns & Contributors, Opinion, Cameron Douglas, Marge Ann Jameson


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