Turning tragedy into prevention

Agoura High School senior Brian Hertz was shaken when a student at New Community Jewish High School died in a car accident in February 2010.

“I was just shocked because it was so awful,” he said.

Adir Vered was killed when the vehicle he was traveling in crashed into a parked car. At the time, the student was not wearing his seatbelt and had his head stuck out of an open window. Police said no drugs or alcohol were involved.

Hertz attended middle school with Adir, and although they were not close friends, the death still shook him.

The accident became a catalyst for X-Out Drunk Driving Day — an advocacy project Hertz co-founded as part of an assignment for his social-action class at Los Angeles Hebrew High School.

On June 8, X-Out Drunk Driving Day participants mark the back of their hands with Xs — a pledge “to not drive under the influence and to prevent other people from driving under the influence,” Hertz said.

L.A. Hebrew High has taught Hertz the importance of community, which has informed his belief that “we should all care for and respect each other,” he said.

“As a community, we should work together to fight [drunken driving],” he said.

More than 4,000 people made pledges during X-Out’s first year in 2010, encouraging Hertz to continue running the annual project.

Gearing up for this year’s effort, Hertz remains passionate about the campaign against drinking and driving, but he acknowledges that it’s difficult to get people to pay attention.

“You have to work hard to get people to listen to you, even if you’re saying something true,” he said.

Erica Solomon, Hertz’s Jewish civics teacher at L.A. Hebrew High and his adviser on the X-Out project, refers to him as a “compassionate” mentor and “leader.” 

“He understands that to make a difference in the world, one must invest of themselves and stay the course,” she said.

During his freshman and sophomore years, Hertz was a member of Agoura High School’s track team, and since his freshman year, he’s been a regular with the school’s ComedySportz team, a competitive improvisational comedy-training program.

“I like to be able to think on my feet,” he said, explaining his passion for improv.

This fall, Hertz will attend UCLA, where he plans to study biochemistry to prepare for a career in medicine.

“[I have] wanted to be a doctor since I was little,” he said. Last year, Hertz spent a day shadowing his uncle, an emergency room physician. “It was the coolest experience,” Hertz said excitedly.

For now, he has plenty to keep him occupied, with X-Out day approaching, graduation around the corner and making time for friends.

“Somehow I end up keeping myself busy,” he said.