AUSTIN (KXAN) — Jacqui Saburido, the woman who became the face of anti-drunk driving campaign after a 1999 crash left her with third-degree burns, has died, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission confirmed on Monday.
In 1999, Saburido took a break from college in her native Caracas, Venezuela, to come to the United States to learn English. She had only been in the U.S. for about a month when she was coming home from a birthday party on Sept. 19 and her friend’s car was struck by 18-year-old Reggie Stephey, who had been drinking.
Stephey drifted across the road’s center stripe and struck the car head-on — killing two of the passengers instantly.
Saburido survived but nearly burned to death when the car caught fire.
Stephey, a high school senior of Austin, was convicted of two counts of intoxication manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison — he was released in 2008.
Jacqui, meanwhile, suffered extensive third-degree burns that left her blind, melted off her hair, and resulted in the loss of her ears, lips, nose and eyelids. She also lost use of her hands. She was not expected to survive.
Since the crash, she underwent over 100 operations and at one point, her medical bills totaled up to $5 million — a price tag she faced without health insurance. She died of cancer in Guatemala.
Jacqui spent most of the rest of her life advocating for the Texas Department of Transportation’s campaign urging people not to drink and drive. She appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” twice and it is estimated that at least one billion people have heard her story.
During a press conference, she once 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.”
KXAN sat down with a Travis Co. prosecutor Monday to talk about how attitudes about prosecuting crimes like this one have shifted in the area in recent years.
“I have definitely seen a change in the attitude from the community about how they view these cases,” explained Matthew Foye, an assistant district attorney. Foye heads up the Vehicular Crimes Special Prosecution (VCSP) unit at the Travis County district attorney’s office.
Among other vehicular crimes, the unit handles a lot of cases involving intoxicated drivers.
“Everyone realizes there are so many ways to prevent these cases. They’re just not going to be tolerated anymore and people who continue to engage in this kind of behavior and cause these fatalities and these devastating serious injury collisions, should be prosecuted and punished under the law,” Foye said.
In 2018, the unit prosecuted 65 defendants. Of those, 23 defendants received felony time, 25 received felony probation/deferred. Six defendants received misdemeanor time and the remaining 11 defendants received misdemeanor probation/deferred.
Also last year, 29 defendants were prosecuted for fatality/serious bodily injury cases.