The Highland Park woman facing sentencing for hitting and killing a 5-year-old girl while high on canned air warned teens of the horrors of drugs in an emotional gathering Tuesday at a Chicago church.
"They destroy lives," Carly Rousso, 20, told a group of 30 Chicago teens at Lincoln Methodist Church in the Pilsen neighborhood.
Rousso detailed her own drug use and how it escalated in a frank, emotional talk with the teens, a photograph of her young victim next to her on the table.
"I started using drugs when I was 12 years old. I started smoking pot to ease the pain," Rousso said. The friends that I befriended, that was cool, that's what people were doing, so I decided, 'Well why can't I?,' and I learned that by doing drugs I could stop self-medicate and stop the pain, stop the hurt."
Rousso is scheduled to be sentenced next month for aggravated DUI and reckless homicide in connection with the Labor Day 2012 crash that killed Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento.
Rousso said that as a child, she was targeted by bullies because she was one of few Mexicans in her Highland Park community, and she struggled to find her identity because she was adopted. "I got teased and bullied as a kid, to the point where suicide was a very large part of my life," Rousso said.
Rousso said she moved on to heavier drugs and prescription pills when she was 15, partially to cope with a pit bull attack that left her face scarred. She was placed in a treatment center in Utah when she was 16, and stayed there until she graduated high school.
But when she moved back home, she says the depression kicked back in and she started using again.
"On Sept. 3, 2012, I made the terrible decision to drive under the influence. I passed out behind the wheel of the car. My car went over four lanes of traffic and hit the pedestrian family," Rousso said.
"I turned around after I got out of the car, and I saw two people laying on the ground — a woman screaming 'My miniña!' and a little girl. I ran over as best I could and tried giving the girl CPR and held the mother's hand, and when the cops arrived, I got up and said, 'I did this. Will you take me away? I was driving under the influence. I did this,'" Rousso said.
Rousso says officers arrived the next day and told her Jaclyn had died. She was later charged in connection with the accident.
"I thought drugs were the answer. I thought everything was going to be OK, because I had drugs... but drugs, what they do is they destroy people," Rousso said.
"I am here. I don't know why I'm here, why I'm alive, why it was Jaclyn instead of me. But I think the reason I am here is to give you a message — to not do drugs, to never drive under the influence and to think before you act."
Rousso said she's sober and has been volunteering at a recovery center and working with troubled kids and has also helped start a "Step Up! & Say No To Drugs!" campaign.
"I think a lot of kids think that when you're doing drugs, nothing can harm you, that you're invincible, but that's not true. I didn't think I would hurt anyone because of drugs, but instead I hurt my family, I hurt my friends and I took the life of an innocent girl. And there's no way to repay that," Rousso said.
At the beginning of her trial, Rousso pleaded guilty to reckless homicide, but maintained her not guilty plea to aggravated DUI, the more serious of the charges. She was then convicted of the second charge during a bench trial.