Jacqui was only 20 when she and her friends were hit in their car by a drunk 18-year-old driver in Austin, Texas [1]. There were five of them in the car, two of whom died instantly. Jacqui suffered major burns all over her body. She went on to become an advocate of the Faces of Drunk Driving Campaign, an awareness program organized by the Texas Department of Transportation.

Twenty years later, on 20 April 2019, Jacqui Saburido died of cancer at the age of 40.

It only took one second

On 19 September 1999, the five ladies were returning home from a birthday party when a drunk 18-year-old rammed into their small car with his large pickup truck, causing a ghastly crash. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the boy had switched lanes subconsciously and the collision happened [2]. The vehicle Jacqui was in went up in flames, causing her to suffer third-degree burns on 60% of her body.

According to the New York Post, Jacqui had been the only one trapped in the vehicle [3]. When the vehicles collided, the driver (Natalia Chyptchak Bennett) and the girl in the back seat (Laura Guerrero) both died on the spot. The paramedics arrived and were able to quench the fire just long enough to pull out the other two girls. Before they could get Jacqui out, the flames reignited again. The fire truck arrived 45 seconds later.

By the time they managed to cut her loose and airlift her to the hospital, she’d been terribly burnt. She lost her hair, ears, nose, lips, left eyelid, and her left eye.

The teenager, Reginald Stephey, already an adult at the time, was convicted of driving under influence and manslaughter in 2001. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and was released in 2008. 

He once said in an interview that when he met Jacqui after his conviction, she forgave him, despite stating the fact that he had “destroyed her life completely”. ‘Reggie, I don’t hate you.’ It’s really touching someone can look you in the eyes and have that much compassion after all that I have caused,” he recalled.

Jacqui’s campaign saved a lot of lives

Jacqui had to undergo 120 reconstructive surgeries all over her body, including a cornea transplant which was performed in an attempt to restore vision in her left eye.

She’d been hurt badly, but to the doctors’ utmost surprise, she survived everything. She was strong and unrelenting, pushing forward and never backing down in her struggle for survival. She went on to become an advocate for the Texas Department of Transportation’s anti-drunk-driving campaign, Faces of Drunk Driving, and also allowed the media to use graphic photos from her accident to raise awareness.

She spoke to school children and teenagers, appeared at pep rallies, events, and also on television. She turned her painful life-changing experience into a lesson for others.

In the years 2003 and 2011, she appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show. Oprah could be quoted saying that “she is a woman who defines survival.”

In one of her television appearances, Saburido said: “Even if it means sitting here in front of a camera with no ears, no nose, no eyebrows, no hair, I’ll do this a thousand times if it will help someone make a wise decision.”

“This is part of my mission here on the Earth,” she said in a video posted on the Faces of Drunk Driving site. “If this face and this body can help others, then why not?”

A woman who will never be forgotten

On 20 April 2019, in Guatemala, Guatemala City, Jacqui passed away from cancer. She will forever remain a light in the sky and a voice of reason in the world [4].

We do not only harm ourselves when we drive drunk. We put other innocent commuters and pedestrians at great risk. When we let our friends drive drunk, we put them and other innocent people at risk. Drunk driving is dangerous. All it takes is one second, and lives, futures, families, homes, and assets are destroyed completely.

Say ‘no’ to drunk driving.

References

  1. Jacqui Saburido, who became the face of an anti-drunk driving campaign, has died. Keith Allen. CNN. April 24, 2019.
  2. Jacqui. Faces of Drunk Driving. Retrieved from http://www.facesofdrunkdriving.com/jacqui.
  3. Jacqui Saburido, face of anti-DWI campaigns, dies at 40. Yaron Steinbuch. New York Post. April 23, 2019.
  4. Jacqui Saburido, face of famous anti-drunk driving campaign, dies. Russell Falcon and Brittany Glas. KXAN. April 22, 2019.
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