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Mistakes add up to tragedy
June 29, 2010
​On a frigid February morning more than three years ago, I stood on the porch of a tidy, modest Aurora home and stared into the anguished face of a mother whose world had just exploded into a million pieces.

Our front-door chat was brief, but I shall not forget what Monica Vasquez said to me the day after her daughter Sandra had been charged with driving drunk in a car crash that would eventually claim the lives of five Oswego teenagers and injure three more of their friends.

There was more to the story than what the headlines implied, she told me, her hands trembling and tears swimming down her cheeks.

I felt her pain more intently than the icy air, yet I continued to press for details because that's what I am required as a journalist to do.

She mumbled something about her daughter only trying to help the kids in the car. The real story, she promised, would eventually be told, but until then ... She closed the door gently in my face.

Sandra Vasquez finally got that opportunity on Monday when her defense attorney, Kathleen Colton, called her to the witness stand at the end of this high-profile Kendall County trial that revolves around a litany of very bad choices.

Allowing a defendant to take the stand, attorneys will tell you, can also be a bad decision; certainly, a risky one. But in this case, it appeared to be the right move. The young woman's tearful account of that Saturday night gone horribly awry was both compelling and believable.

Sandra Vasquez, there is little doubt, was a compassionate caregiver whose poor choices were tragically compounded because she did not know how to say no to the poor choices of others. It's why she decided to pick up her kid sister late on a Saturday night, even though she was already dressed for an evening at home with her small children.

It's why, while she and a friend were waiting in her car outside her aunt's home, she didn't say no when that same sister asked her to come into the house and deal with a mean girl making fun of some kids.

It's why she didn't say no when an obviously drunk teenage boy begged her for a ride home.

And it's why she didn't say no -- and mean it -- when that kid and seven of his friends piled into her 5-seat Infiniti.

"I told them to get out, twice," said a sobbing Vasquez as she recounted that moment in the driveway when her gesture of kindness became so out of control.

Sandra Vasquez should have said no a whole lot of times that night. The young mom, nursing a six-month-old baby, should have turned down that can of beer at a children's birthday party earlier in the evening. Most certainly she should have said no to the Jaeger Bomb that followed.

And once she found out her aunt's new home a few blocks away had been turned into an underage drinking party while the parents were off shopping for houswares at Walmart, Vasquez should have hauled that stubborn little sis out of that toxic environment immediately, even if it meant picking her up and dragging her out by her long, dark hair.

But she didn't. And because she said yes too many times, Vasquez was sitting on a witness stand more than three years later, tearfully defending herself against more than a couple dozen charges that include reckless homicide.

Yes, this trial, and certainly the defendant's testimony, provided us with a more detailed picture of how that tragic night unfolded. Yet even with all these answers, we are still left wondering why.

"I don't have a better explanation," Vasquez told State's Attorney Eric Weis when he cross-examined her testimony about what happened inside that Infiniti before it swerved off Route 31 and hit a utility pole.

Maybe that's because when it comes to some of the choices made in life, there really are no answers that satisfy.

Just lots of mistakes. Some tragic. All human.

And now it's up to a jury of 12 to decide if they are criminal, too.