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Date: 2005/08/13 Saturday Page: 4 Section: A Edition: First Size: 285 words

Verea kin suing driver charged in fatal crash


A distraught Cliffside Park family is transforming its grief into legal action, filing a lawsuit on Thursday against the 19-year-old who is charged with drunk driving in a car crash that killed 18-year-old Rebeka Verea.

Verea, the daughter of Lourdes and Dr. Jorge L. Verea, chief medical officer of the North Hudson Community Action Corp., was killed June 20 when Alexis Torres' Mercedes-Benz rear-ended a tractor trailer at 74th Street and West Side Avenue in North Bergen.

Rebeka, a passenger in the car, had graduated from Cliffside Park High School earlier that day. She and Torres, a longtime friend and Fair Lawn resident, were returning home from a party.

Verea died instantly and Torres spent 11 days in a coma at the Jersey City Medical Center. Upon release, Hudson County prosecutors charged Torres with death by auto, reckless driving, and drunk driving, among other charges.

Torres, represented by attorney John Bruno, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

"They want to hold Alexis Torres accountable," said Rosemarie Arnold, the Vereas' Fort Lee attorney. "It's not a question of them being angry, they are anguished over the loss of their child and they are determined to make sure that loss is not in vain."

The Vereas have established the Rebeka Verea Foundation to advocate safe driving among young people. They have also pledged to donate a portion of any money received in the civil suit to the foundation.

"Speed kills," Jorge L. Verea said in a statement released by Arnold. "It's the foundation's mission to get this message out to as many young people as we can."

An arraignment date for Torres on the criminal charges has not been set, nor has a court date for the civil suit.