CHICAGO – Limousine driver Leonel Cesar says he was just doing his job when he called police to report that a group of Highland Park teenagers tried to smuggle booze into his "party bus" on homecoming night.
One of the North Shore teens offered Cesar money to look the other way, told him that a paper bag containing liquor "was none of his business" and begged him not to call parents, police said.
The recent evening ended with 13 underage drinking citations and a slew of angry parents — some directing their wrath at Any Time Limo in Addison. One threatened to sue, saying the driver should not have involved police, said Alex Mich, the company's general manager.
Though most agree Cesar did the right thing, experts say the incident raises questions about the fallout from such vigilance. For example, will teens avoid oversight by adults and drive themselves the next time, even when drunk? Others concede teen drinking is inevitable and credit the Highland Park students for at least hiring someone else to drive.
"We know we are going to lose some business," Mich said. "It's not about the money; it's about doing the right thing."
Similar debate surrounds the Safe Rides program in New Trier Township, which allows student volunteers to pick up their intoxicated peers from parties, no questions asked. Some argue the program gives teens tacit approval to drink.
"I realize in the real world whatever steps we tried to prohibit kids from drinking don't seem to be working," said Jeff Brooks, who oversees the program. "Our Safe Rides are designed to do one thing: to get kids home safely. It works."
In the case of limo services, calling police is the last resort, Mich said. Teens and parents are forewarned that drinking, smoking and sex are prohibited in the luxury vehicles.
On Sept. 27, about 20 teens boarded Cesar's white limo coach, which contains a TV and a stereo and costs $1,500 for three hours.
One teen asked the driver to stop at his Highland Park house before proceeding to a Chicago restaurant, said Cmdr. Gerald Cameron. The teen returned with a bag. When the driver asked to see it, the student replied: "It's none of your business. Don't worry, you'll be tipped."
Cesar called the parents, but no one responded quickly enough, Mich said. Some teens offered him money in return for not calling police, but Cesar said he refused.
"Some of the parents said to me, 'Thank you very much,' " Cesar said. "Others said: 'This is stupid. It's homecoming.' "
The intoxicated students were suspended temporarily from athletic and other activities, school officials said.
"It doesn't matter if you're driving or someone else is driving. This is unacceptable behavior," said George Fornero, superintendent of Township High School District 113, which is based in Highland Park.
John McCardell, president of Choose Responsibility, a nonprofit group that advocates lowering the drinking age to 18, said the incident shows that public debate about the role of alcohol in our culture is needed.
By hiring a limo, "clearly these young people, however misguided they might have been, were trying to make good and safe choices," he said. "But they were also clearly violating the law. . . . Did the limousine driver do the right thing? Yes. Will what he did have the right outcome? That remains to be seen."
Source: Chicago Tribune