Woman Who Became Face Of Drunk Driving Awareness Campaign Dies
AUSTIN, TEXAS — Jacqueline Saburido Garcia, who lent her disfigured face to a powerful state campaign against drunk driving for which she served as spokeswoman after having been victimized 20 years ago, has died of cancer at the age of 40.
Garcia died over the weekend in Guatemala, but news of her death emerged on Monday. According to reports, she had moved to her native Caracas, Venezuela, to Guatemala City to have better access to medical treatment and medications on which she still relied after the the accident. The car in which she was traveling was struck by a drunk driver as she and her friends returned to Austin from a party at Lake Travis in September 1999.
Two of Garcia’s friends died in the fire-engulfed car after Reggie Stephey, then an 18-year-old Lake Travis High School student, slammed his car into theirs while driving drunk, according to reports at the time. Stephey failed to negotiate a curve along RM 2222, sending his 1996 GMC Yukon SUV careening against the car in which Garcia and her three friends were traveling as they returned to Austin early that morning.
Garcia was pulled from the wreckage, saved from death but forever marked by tragedy. The beautiful face of 20-year-old girl — in Austin to take English classes during a college sojourn from her native Venezuela — had been transformed into a burned visage without ears, lips or nose. The bright eyes of a young woman with a bright future ahead of her were replaced by narrow, reconstructed slits devoid of eyelashes and lacking the spark they once contained.
Yet in their place was a vision suffused with newfound determination and sense of mission. Despite enduring painful skin grafts, reconstructive surgery and numerous medical treatments over the years, Garcia became the face of a powerful anti-drunk driving campaign warning others not to drive under the influence of alcohol. Despite being disfigured as a result of the crash, she put her face forward if only to save others from suffering the same fate.
So resonant was the campaign, Garcia was invited to speak on national forums — including twice being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey — and at campuses throughout the country.
In a video updating on the lives of both Garcia and Stephey, Garcia expressed dreams of being wed and having children even while acknowledging in the next breath this hope might never be realized.
“I would like to get married and to have children,” she said in the video. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it, I’m not sure. I’m not 100 percent capable, and I get tired. Sometimes I think I can do it, and sometimes I think probably not, this is not for me. I hope, but I don’t know.”
As news of Garcia’s death spread, tributes flowed into social media from all over the world. “A warrior has gone,” wrote one admirer in Spanish. “My sincere condolences to Mr. Amadeo Saburido, who accompanied his daughter in this struggle at every moment along with her friends and family members who gave her infinite love.”
Garcia’s father reportedly became his daughter’s caretaker after the traffic collision.
The dream of marriage and motherhood Garcia once expressed would never come to pass for the brave young woman who fearlessly showed her scars to the world for a greater good. Yet in taking in the full measure of her accomplishments in life, one wonders how many lives she may have saved with her powerful message — the unknown multitudes who may have been persuaded never to drive drunk because of her who are themselves parents today. One wonders how many parents she spared from crippling heartbreak as untold numbers of young people heeded her powerful words.
And while she was never to become a mother herself, motherhood figured prominently in the aftermath of her death.
“Jacqui was a brave survivor, a tireless advocate, and an inspirational speaker,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving wrote on Facebook. “No doubt numerous lives were saved from hearing her story. We are truly saddened today.”
And, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman, Garcia was to be buried next to her mother once she was transported to her native Venezuela. Her cousin told the newspaper it was the young woman’s wish to someday be buried next to her mother, who passed away of cancer herself in 2006.
Click Here: Cardiff Blues Store