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'School's out' celebration ends in fatal brain injury for Wisconsin teen

It's natural for high school students in La Crosse and throughout Wisconsin to celebrate the end of another school year.

Unfortunately, for one Madison teen, the celebration ended in a fatal brain injury.

The teen, 17, was riding in the back seat of a friend's car just before midnight. Police reports indicate the driver, 18, was intoxicated and lost control of the vehicle, collided with a parked truck and then slammed into a tree.

Drunken driver admits fault, passengers rushed to hospital

When police arrived at the scene, the driver apparently admitted to driving drunk. His two back-seat passengers had been seriously injured in the crash. One suffered head trauma, a collapsed lung, injury to the kidneys and spleen and an aortic hernia. The second back-seat passenger was rushed to UW Hospital where doctors tried desperately to save his life. Unfortunately, he did not recover from the traumatic brain injury he suffered. He passed away on Sunday at the age of 17.

A third passenger suffered a concussion and minor cuts and bruises.

The driver faces drunk driving charges as well as two counts of "injury by the intoxicated use of a motor vehicle." Since those injuries have now proved fatal, it is likely one of those charges will be increased to homicide. If convicted, the 18-year-old driver may face lengthy imprisonment.

Some might see a prison sentence as justice for the victim and his family. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system can only punish the guilty. It cannot make whole a family who has lost so much due to another's reckless actions.

When another party's negligence or illegal acts result in brain injury or loss of life, a civil personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit may offer the victims an opportunity to seek fair compensation for what they have suffered.

Source: The Cap Times, "Crime and Courts: A car, malt liquor, and a dead kid," Steven Elbow, June 7, 2011

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