What started as a weekend-long slumber party turned into tragedy after a New York City mother allegedly crammed seven preteen girls into her 1998 Mercury Sable and drove drunk.
On October 11, 2009, the second night of her daughter's slumber party weekend, Carmen Huertas took all seven girls with her to a birthday party. Witnesses say the 31-year-old mother started drinking at the party. At the end of the evening, Carmen allegedly piled the girls back into her car and took off. Some of the girls were riding without seat belts.
According to reports, Carmen lost control of the vehicle. It flipped over several times, throwing three girls from the car. Two were seriously injured. Eleven-year-old Leandra Rosado was killed.
Carmen has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated. Tests reveal her blood alcohol level to be 0.132, nearly double the legal limit of 0.08. Carmen has not yet entered a plea.
The night of the accident, Leandra sat in the back area of the car with her good friend Kayla and another girl. "I knew [Leandra] for four years, and we're really good friends," she says. "We did everything with each other."
Kayla says she thought something was wrong when she left the party with Carmen that night. Though she hadn't seen many drunk people before, Kayla thought Carmen was talking strangely. "I told Brittany that her mom kind of looks like she's kind of drunk. But Brittany said that if her mom would be drunk, her eyes would be kind of closed a little," she says. "Her eyes weren't closed, and so I believed her because she knows her mom really, really, really, really well. And I know her like half and half."
Kayla, who suffered a broken arm in the crash, says she doesn't remember much. "I remember the part where she says, 'Raise your hand if you think we're going to crash, or raise your hand if you think we're going to go home safe,'" she says. "I could tell that everyone was scared, but they don't want to raise their hand."
Kayla says she remembers feeling scared and worried. "I guess she went to go pull the brake, and then that's when we started flipping over, I guess."
Kayla's mom, Melody, says this tragedy can teach all parents a lifesaving lesson—trust your instincts. "Something in my heart was telling me, 'Don't let her go,'" she says. "It was an instinct, and I should have went with that instinct."
Although she knew Carmen's ex-boyfriend, Melody says she never spoke to Carmen until she called to invite Kayla to the slumber party. "So I told her: 'I don't know. I'll call you back,'" she says. "She goes: 'Please call me back because I love Kayla. She's a wonderful girl. She will be in great hands. Don't worry about her.' She was very sincere over the phone with me."
The first night of the sleepover, Melody says Kayla was late because she was still unsure about letting her go. "The next thing you know, I almost lost my daughter," she says. "I just can't believe it."
To honor the daughter he lost, Lenny Rosado is meeting with New York City officials to try to toughen DWI penalties and create a law in remembrance of Leandra. "She always wanted to be by my side. Wherever I went, she questioned me as to where I was going. She wanted to go," he says. "She could not stand bullies, anyone bullying her friends. She was always there like she was their protector."
Listening to Kayla talk about that night isn't easy for Lenny. "I've had other days it was running through my mind, what these girls were going through when that car was flipping over and thinking about what my daughter was saying," he says. "Was she crying out for Daddy? It's hard. It's hard to listen to it. And I know it plays over in my mind every single day."
Lenny wants to make sure no parent ever has to experience the loss of a child to such a senseless tragedy. "Teach your kids. If they know they're getting into a vehicle and they notice that the person is drunk to not get in the car—or if they're already in the car, step out," he says. "Get out of the car. Scream. Tell somebody, 'I don't want to get in the car.'"
Lenny also encourages parents to give cell phones to their children. "Empower them," he says. "It will save lives."