Speaker describes journey after drunk driving accident

Photo by Evelyn Brown

Story by Emily Hoover

Sarah Panzau, 29, took time Thursday to speak to a group of students about the dangers of drunk driving. Panzau is a spokesperson for Anheuser Busch, and in her own words she is trying to “save the world.” She was herself in a drunk driving accident, one that dramatically altered her life.

“On August 23, 2003, I chose to go out, I chose to drink, and I chose to get in that car and drive,” Panzau said. “[The wreck] ripped my left arm from my body; I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and I was ejected straight back. The glass severed my arm through the bone. It cracked the whole lower part of my jaw away from my face, and this huge piece of metal was lodged up through my mouth. I had been dragged along the guardrail while hanging onto my vehicle, and the back of my skull was completely gone. On the road I was clinically dead and had a 0 percent chance of survivability.”

Panzau, originally, had a bright future ahead of her, before she began making the decisions that would ultimately lead to the crash. Panzau turned down 26 volleyball scholarships to follow a boy to junior college; she then dropped out of college to become an underage bartender.

“College was hard and I was lazy,” Panzau said. “I [became] a 19-year-old bartender; they never even asked for my ID. [My friends and I] always drank; we did it all the time. It was a part of my lifestyle.”

Panzau learned after her wreck what that lifestyle was worth; two of her “best friends” came to see her once, and none of the others ever spoke to her again.

“Our true friends are supposed to watch out for us, they’re supposed to have our backs,” Panzau said. “My so-called family of friends watched me stumble out of that bar barely able to walk.”

In contrast to her relationship with her friends, Panzau’s relationship with her mother was strengthened because of the crash.

“[As a teenager] I rebelled against everything my mother said; as far as I was concerned my mom was the spawn of Satan himself,” Panzau said. “I remember looking up [after the crash] and seeing my mom sitting in the chair beside me, sobbing uncontrollably. [The night of the crash] she had been sent on a 25-mile car ride to identify her daughter’s body. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like.”

Panzau advocates waiting until the legal drinking age before even considering being put in the vulnerable position alcohol usage creates.

“The reason why the drinking age is set at 21 is because that’s when your brain is fully developed; until that age the frontal lobe isn’t finished maturing and that’s the part of the brain that controls decision-making,” Panzau said. “When you drink you become careless; you become more invincible than you already think you are.”