Turning tragedy to teaching
Teens learn lessons from local girl who died after graduation
by Lana Rose Diaz
Reporter staff writer
Jun 27, 2010 | 2528 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FIVE YEAR MEMORIAL – Rebeka Verea was killed as the passenger in a Hudson County car crash on June 21, 2005, just hours after celebrating her high school graduation.
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A couple well-known throughout Hudson County celebrated a sad anniversary on June 21– the five-year memorial of their daughter’s tragic death.

Dr. Jorge Verea, whose medical practice is in West New York, and his wife Lourdes have spent the years since their daughter Rebeka died in a car crash dedicated to a West New York-based foundation that tries to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to other kids.

Most notably, they’ve held an annual symposium on safe driving, attended by students from throughout Hudson and Bergen counties, including Memorial High School and Union City High School.

“It was a tough day, but it was nice. We saw a lot of beautiful things happen.” – Dr. Jorge Verea

And from the turnout at a recent memorial, the appreciation of their work among the youth shows.

On June 20, near the site of the accident on West Side Avenue in North Bergen, Rebeka’s friends were joined at a memorial by dozens of students who never even met Rebeka to remember her life. They were invited because they were involved in the Rebeka Verea Foundation through their schools.

“It was a tough day,” said Jorge Verea. “But it was nice. We saw a lot of beautiful things happen.”

Lourdes Verea said that she intends to spend the next five years continuing to spread the message that kids should believe in themselves and know their life is beautiful.

Graduation tragedy

Rebeka Verea’s life comes to mind for many each year around graduation time as another new class of graduates head to festivities throughout the area.

On June 21, 2005, just hours after celebrating her own high school graduation from Cliffside Park High School, Verea was riding in the passenger seat of a Mercedes Benz with her friend Alexis Torres, 19, of North Bergen at the wheel.

The two were returning from a graduation party – and possibly exceeding the speed limit, according to police – when at 74th Street and West Side Avenue, the car collided with a tractor-trailer. The accident severed the car’s roof.

Torres, who was not wearing his seat belt, was flung from the car and treated for an assortment of injuries. Verea, who was wearing her seat belt, was killed instantly.

Torres was ultimately acquitted of all charges against him. This past January, his attempt to sue several North Bergen officials for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution was dismissed.

Awareness grows through a myriad of events

The Vereas started the Rebeka Verea Foundation, headquartered in West New York, the year that their daughter died.

Since then, the foundation has spread quickly to other communities, including a chapter at Memorial High School and one at a university in Guadalajara, Mexico.

On April 29, over 600 kids from various schools attended this year’s safe driving symposium for teens sponsored by the foundation at the Palisadium in Cliffside Park.

Speakers on hand included police officers who spoke about safe driving practices and doctors who detailed what happens to the body during an accident.

Their annual gala, held on March 20, raised $35,000 for the foundation – which was then doubled by United Way. Mrs. Verea said every penny is directly cycled back into educational programs for the youth or donated to schools to help support their Project Graduation programs, which keeps teens off the streets after graduation exercises.

On May 16, the foundation held the first of what will be an annual fashion show to raise a little bit of money, but more importantly, to continue raising awareness.

Verea said the event, held on Mothers’ Day and attended by approximately 200 people, was meant to be “an incentive to each mother.”

And on May 28, the NJN Hispanic Youth Showcase 2010 and subsequent television broadcast were dedicated with the theme “Say Yes to Life” to honor the Rebeka Verea Foundation and other organizations for their efforts to save teen lives on the road.

For more information, please visit www.rebekavereafoundation.org or call (201) 758-9600.

Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at ldiaz@hudsonreporter.com.

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