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The light poles fell like dominoes as five teens in the Jeep below held their breath.

Christopher Axley had just gotten his driver license.

He was trying to impress his friends by doing donuts in the vacant Hillcrest High School parking lot. Instead, his father's Jeep spun out across the snow-covered blacktop.

After the crash, the teens looked around. The lot was empty. No witnesses.

"We should go," one said. "No one's here."

Axley shook his head. He knew running would only make things worse. So, he turned himself in.

"I was so scared," he said. "But I wanted to admit what I did. I didn't want to have that weight, that guilt on my shoulders."

Two years later, Unified Police School Resource Officer Paula Stinson recognized Axley's display of character.

She said it was part of the reason Axley was one of eight outstanding high-school students from around Salt Lake County who were honored by law enforcement for their leadership.

Axley, an 18-year-old high-school senior, was also one of two to win a $500 academic scholarship to pursue his dream of law enforcement.

"To say you raised your son to know right from wrong and have the strength to do what's right, even when it's not easy — that's a pretty powerful thing," father Chester Axley said. "My son's become an inspiration to his friends, but also to me."

The award, presented at the annual International Footprint Association's luncheon and ceremony on April 23, will help Axley as he heads to Weber State University in the fall.

He'll be the first in his family to go to college. And he knows exactly what he wants to do after he graduates: become a narcotics police officer.

It's a nod to a past he barely remembers.

Axley has lived with his father in Midvale for 13 years. Before that, his memories are a blur.

He recalls flashes of courtrooms, leaving his mom, moving in with his dad.

Back then, Axley was too young to understand what was happening to his family.

But now he knows: For years, his parents were addicted to methamphetamine.

It took jail time for his father to clean up his act. But once he did, the father said, he got a job, won custody of his son and never looked back.

Axley, who is planning to visit his rehabilitated mother in North Carolina after graduation, said he hopes he can show others what his parents have shown him: Drugs will destroy you if you let them.

"My dad taught me that you don't have to do bad things. You have a choice," the teen said. "And if you can't walk down that path and do good, eventually, reality's going to catch up and smack you across the face."

As Axley sat among mayors, police officers and other students from across the Salt Lake Valley last Tuesday, he never dreamed he would win the award, he said.

Students at neighboring tables had 4.0 grade-point averages, were captains of sports teams, leaders and award-winners.

But Axley's character and dedication won out. Stinson commended Axley's commitment to the Unified Police Department's student cadet program, which teaches students about the various aspects of law enforcement, and his ability to set an example for his peers.

As Axley took the stage to accept the scholarship, he wiped tears from his cheeks. His 6-foot, 3-inch frame swelled even more with pride as he shook Sheriff Jim Winder's hand.

"It was overwhelming," Axley said later. "I just wanted to jump up and down and scream. … It was an honor just to be there, let alone to get that scholarship."

Standing beside him, nearly a foot shorter, was Taylorsville High School senior Daryllin Zitting.

Zitting, 17, also wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, first by working with police dogs and then, perhaps, by joining the gang unit.

Already making a name for herself as the first female to hold a noncommissioned officer position in the Taylorsville High School JROTC battalion, Zitting joined UPD's cadet program in November.

She plans to go to Salt Lake Community College after graduation and then go to Weber State.

"My parents — they're a little nervous about the whole police-work thing," the teen explained. "But they want me to chase my dreams. … And after being in that room, getting that award from the big guys, I feel like, yeah, I can do this."

Twitter: marissa_jae —

Teens receive Student of the Year awards

Eight students from as many Salt Lake Valley high schools received awards for being leaders in their communities. They were chosen by school resource officers, who teach vocational law-enforcement classes in those schools and handle criminal investigations on school grounds.

The winners were: Christopher Axley (Hillcrest); Betty Castillo (Olympus); Joel Kakela (Kearns); Esabelle Khaosanga (Skyline); Connor Squire (Cyprus); Jacob VanRoosendaal (Riverton); Daryllin Zitting (Taylorsville); Jayden Zundel (Herriman).

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