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Smith

Actions have consequences. Sometimes what seems like a little mistake can have horrific long-range effects.

Charles Smith of the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse brought a video to the Athens Kiwanis Club on Tuesday that brought home the message of how one event can impact lives for decades.

The story of an Austin area teen who downed too many drinks, then crossed his customized SUV into the path of an oncoming car focused not only on the two lives lost in the crash and ensuing fire, but the two survivors.

Reggie Stephey served seven years in prison for twin counts of intoxication manslaughter for the 1999 wreck on Ranch-to-Market Road 2222 outside of Austin.

 Jacqueline Saburido was pulled from the front seat from the other car, screaming from the pain until she lost consciousness. She suffered 3rd-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. Her nose, ears and hair were gone.

Saburido said she has often wondered whether it was better to have survived the wreck, than to have died along with Natalia Chyptchak Bennett and Laura Guerrero.

Today her burned face is unrecognizable from the pre-wreck pictures of the 20-year-old student studying English in Austin. She’s had more than 50 surgeries, and many more will be necessary.  Jacqui recalls driving her car to school, and attending parties where she dances flamenco. Now once simple tasks like dressing herself are outside of her capability.

“It’s not that internally I’m a different Jacqui,” Saburido said. “It’s that externally, I can’t do what I did before.”

Stephey bears the weight of the devastation he brought on the victims of the crash and their families. He is also sorrowed by the blow he dealt his own family, with the wreck, the trial and his time in Huntsville.

Like many 18-year-olds who have a few drinks too many, he never dreamed that getting behind the wheel that night would wound so many.

“I had never gotten in any trouble in my life,” Stephey said. “I’d never gotten any DWIs, or had any trouble with alcohol. But the one time that I made that horrible decision was devastating.”

Stephey and Saubrido met briefly a few years later, the first time they had seen each other since the trial.

“I think it went well," Stephey said in an Austin newspaper story. "It was emotionally-draining. I'm still reeling from it. My struggles don't compare to the struggles Jacqui goes through on a daily basis.”

One thing they have in common is their plea to anyone who has been drinking to leave the driving to someone sober.

“In the end, the decision is going to be yours,” Stephey said. “I hope you make the right decision, and not the decision I made.”

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