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School shocked by teen death before prom

June 1, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Grief counselors were on hand at a Woodland Hills high school Monday after a 16-year-old student was killed in a traffic accident on the way to prom.Jennifer Perla of Encino was killed instantly when she was thrown from an SUV Saturday at 8:10 p.m. on the way to the Taft High School prom. Authorities said she was not wearing a seat belt.

Family, students and school officials spoke highly of the freshman on Monday.

Perla's family released a statement saying, "Jennifer was a happy, loving, and caring daughter, sister, student and friend."

Perla was with seven other teenagers when the driver of the SUV they were riding in swerved to avoid another vehicle and overturned on the southbound 110 Freeway. Perla's older sister was among those injured in the accident.

Student Adriana Madero said she had planned to go to the prom and intended to ride in the same vehicle, but her plans had changed.

"That could have happened to me too. I just couldn't believe, like, it had to be her," Madero said.

The seven other young people in the vehicle who were wearing seat belts had moderate to minor injuries.

Taft student Angelina Sabetta said the tragic accident cast a pall over the entire prom weekend and on the campus.

"Even though I didn't know her on a personal level, it's really sad to find out," she said.

Perla was a cheerleader and a dancer at Taft High School.

"She was well liked by her peers, she was well liked by her teachers, very sweet girl," said Taft Assistant Principal Debra Bryant.

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