Reggie Stephey: Where is Reggie Stephey today after Jacqui Saburido death?
Reggie Stephey is the drunk driver who crashed into Jacqui Saburido, killed her two friends and served 7 years in jail. Reggie Stephey today is 38 years old.
Jacqui Saburido died April 20th 2019 after battling cancer at the age of 40.
The crash happened on Sunday morning, September 19, 1999.
Jacqueline Saburido was taking a break from college when she came to the United States to study English. She had been in Texas for less than a month when the crash occurred.
Jacqueline, age 20 at the time, was on her way home from a birthday party with four of her friends. Reggie Stephey, age 18 at the time, was on his way home from drinking beer.
Reggie’s SUV crashed into Jacqueline’s Oldsmobile. Two of Jacqueline’s friends died at the scene. Within minutes, the Oldsmobile was engulfed in flames. Jacqueline was pinned inside.
Over 60% of her body was severely burned. Nobody thought that Jacqui would live. But she did.
Jacqui lost her fingers, hair, ears, nose, left eyelid, and much of her vision. She had more than 50 operations since the crash.
Reggie was convicted of two counts of intoxication manslaughter for the deaths of Jacqui’s two friends. He was released from prison in 2008 after serving a full seven-year sentence.
Jacqui bravely allowed post-accident photos of herself to be used in media campaigns against drunk driving. She appeared on Oprah in 2003, and Oprah called her “a woman who defines survival.”
Amazingly, Jacqui Saburido publicly forgave Reggie Stephey, even though his drunk driving completely destroyed her life.
Reggie Stephey met Jacqui again after he finished serving his jail term
10 years after Jacqui’s crash, on August 14, 2009, Jacqueline Saburido met with Reggie Stephey, the man who caused the crash that disfigured her, in San Antonio.
It was the first time they had seen each other since Reggie’s trial. They talked together in a hotel room above the Riverwalk for more than an hour. By the time they were done, neither will go into detail about what they talked about.
Reggie Stephey looked like a man burdened. With his lined face and stubbled chin, he looked older than his 28 years, as at then.
Reports said he’s trying to put his life back together after nearly eight years in prison.
Throughout his prison stint, he collaborated with Saburido on the drunken driving campaign, filming public service announcements and speaking to high schools. He was the other half of the equation, a walking cautionary tale.
Law enforcement officials say Stephey was nearly as vital to the success of the campaign as Saburido.
A high school football player with all-American looks, Stephey was someone potential drunken drivers could relate to.
After he was released from prison in 2008, Stephey tried to put the pieces of his own life together. He said in an interview back then, while handrolling cigarettes from a bag of Bugler tobacco:
“It’s a long road. I’m starting out basically 10 years behind in terms of trying to figure out my place in the world.”
He enrolled at the University of Texas as a junior after getting associate degrees in philosophy and business while in prison. He worked construction jobs on the side.
Reggie said he will forever carry the burden of being responsible for two deaths and Saburido’s disfigurement. But he seemed determined to move past the accident.
“It’s defined a large part of my life, but it doesn’t define who I am,” he said.
All Stephey said after his meeting with Saburido while she was in San Antonio in mid-August, 2009 was:
“I think it went well. 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.”
Jacqui Saburido biography:
Jacqui Saburido was born and grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. An only child, she lived with her father after her parents divorced. She loved going to the beach, dancing, and hanging out with her friends.
Jacqui wanted to help her dad run his air conditioning factory after she finished her industrial engineering studies at the university. But first she wanted to learn to speak English.
Natalia Bennett and four others were headed home from a birthday party in Austin. Her front seat passenger was Jacqui Saburido. It was a little past 4:00 in the morning on Sunday, September 19, 1999.
Reggie Stephey, 18, was also on his way home. He had been drinking. Less than a mile from his driveway, Reggie drifted across the center stripe and hit Natalia’s car head on. Natalia Bennett and Laura Guerrero died at the scene.
Jacqui suffered third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body after the car caught fire.
Reggie, the driver, was a high school senior in Austin. A self-described jock, he had hopes of going to college on an athletic scholarship. Those dreams disappeared when he wound up drinking with friends and tried to drive home. He drifted across the center line and crashed his SUV into a car with five people inside.
Two of them died on the spot. Jacqui Saburido nearly burned to death when the car caught fire.
Reggie was convicted of two counts of intoxication manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in the state penitentiary. He was released in 2008. His life will never be the same.
The only thing Jacqui remembers about the crash is the whir of the blades on the helicopter that came to rush her to the hospital. Extensive third-degree burns scorched her eyes and left her blind; melted off her hair; took her ears, lips, nose, and eyelids; and robbed her of the use of her hands.
Doctors did not expect her to survive.
But she did.
Jacqui has had well over 100 operations since the crash. When her medical bills topped $5 million several years ago, she lost count of the total expenses. She has no health insurance.
The carefree, fun-filled life Jacqui once knew as a teenager in Caracas is gone forever. Her appearance and her ability to live independently went up in flames over a decade ago, along with her plans for a career and a family.
She continued to be unsure of what her future holds.
Amadeo Saburido, Jacqui’s father, has been by her side from the start. He left his business, his home, and his country to nurse Jacqui back to health and take care of her. Days turned into months, months into years. He dressed her, bathed her, and fed her. He was there before and after every operation.
Amadeo remained the single most important person in her life.
At one of her many press conferences, Jacqui once valiantly 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.”
Her desire to spare others from the horrors of her experience led Jacqui to participate in the Texas Department of Transportation’s campaign urging people not to drink and drive.
Since the accident, she granted dozens of interviews all over the world. She’s even been on The Oprah Winfrey Show – twice.
By last count, one BILLION people worldwide had heard her story.
Jacqui’s New Life
Jacqui used to feel sorry for herself and cry every day – for five minutes. And then she got on with what she had to do. Doctors’ appointments. Surgeries. Therapy. Talking on the phone with friends. Trips. Emails.
Over the years, she regained some of her vision and some use of her hands.
The life she had before her death was not the life she expected or one she ever wanted. But it was her life and she’s grew accustomed to it.
Jacqui received letters from kids in school. People sent donations to help pay for the costs of her operations. She got greeting cards and stuffed animals. Children draw her pictures. People recognized her on the street and said hello.
Jacqui touched people, and in turn, she was touched by their outpouring of love and support.
Despite the many daily hardships she endures, her faith and her many supporters motivated her to press on.
Now that she is gone, may her soul rest in perfect peace.