As a 15-year-old high school student currently enrolled in driver’s education, I found the events of the New Trier High School student hit-and-run to be fascinating. This sad saga is one episode after another of teens and adults failing to do the right thing.
The failures start with irresponsible teen behavior. Hughes was, without a doubt, distracted at the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises that distracted drivers account for about 80 percent of all crashes. A University of Utah study stated that being distracted by a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as having a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent. We have no information about the victim’s alertness while crossing Green Bay Road and can only hope for her recovery. This incident is a cautionary tale on the importance of defensive skills as a pedestrian.
The second, in a string of failures to do the right thing, was what made this tragedy especially noteworthy: Hughes’ flight from the scene of the accident. This failure of character is difficult to explain. Most hit-and-runs involve undocumented aliens and unlicensed or uninsured drivers (people with an enhanced culpability if arrested for an accident). I discussed this incident with students at my school, and all believe they would not have fled. Her lapse of character cannot be excused by her youth or inexperience. She should be punished.
But punishment should be proportional to the crime. It is here where the failure to do the right thing rests on the shoulders of adults. Judge Marcia Orr’s setting of bail at a half-million dollars is wrong. Bail is designed to prevent the flight of a suspect. In this case, there was little flight risk. Setting such a high bail seeks to punish before due process has occurred. Other cases that have drawn similar bail settings include possession of more than 1,000 pounds of cannabis and sexual assault of a 7-year-old girl who was sold by her stepsister. Finally, setting such a high bail reflects a bias against a criminal in a favored socioeconomic group. The judge may have assumed that parents of a New Trier student would have the resources to post bail and never anticipated that Hughes would not be able to do so. An anonymous woman posted bail and Hughes spent just five nights in custody.
How to make a right of so many wrongs? The victim should be made whole again. This event is one dramatic example of the risks of distracted driving and walking. The immorality of leaving the scene is indisputable, yet every human life is a composite of choices – good, bad and in-between – and Hughes’s life will be no different. This should be a sober chapter in her life. She should find a way to create something good of this bitter experience, perhaps by taking on an advocacy role. This incident may involve too many wrongs to make a right, but the goal should be to minimize the number and duration of the wrongs.
Natalie Rosseau is a River Forest resident and sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School.