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Nobody is indestructible

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Speaker gives living example of the result of making wrong choices

By John Barnhart

    Sarah Panzau served as a living example to students at Staunton River High School last week of what a bad choice can do to you.

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    On August 23, 2003, Panzau, who was 21 at the time, chose to drive home with a blood-alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit. She also chose to drive without using her seatbelt. At 4:30 a.m., as a result of her inebriated state, she missed a highway exit while driving at a little more than 70 mph.  Her car rolled multiple times and landed upside-down, skidding 25 feet. She was ejected from the rear window onto the roadway. In the process, her left arm was ripped off, just below the shoulder. She was later told that clumps of her hair and flesh were found on some of the posts of the guardrail.

    The massive injuries left her hospitalized for several months and resulted in more than 30 surgeries. She’s still in constant pain even after $1.2 million of medical treatment.

    Alcohol wasn’t the problem, she said.

    “I believe my choices, my irresponsibility, was the problem,” she said.

    Along with driving drunk, Panzau noted that not wearing her seatbelt was one of those irresponsible choices.

    “If I had been wearing my seatbelt, most likely I’d be standing here with two arms,” she told the students.

    In order to drive her point home, Panzau appears in athletic wear, gym shorts and a tank top. This allows students to see the scars from the devastating injuries she suffered.

    Panzau had the students’ total attention during the length of the assembly when she spoke. Afterwards, a large number of students crowded around her, some waiting nearly an hour, to talk to her one-on-one.

    Panzau’s message includes overcoming major obstacles. She was a high school and college athlete prior to her accident. She ultimately returned to playing volleyball with a  handicapped league and was a member of a championship team. She finally had to stop because of the stress this was causing to her already damaged right shoulder.

    She’s also an overcomer by speaking. Panzau said that, some time after the accident, she looked in the mirror.

    “I was just horrified at what was looking back at me,” she said.

    That led her to find a way to tell others about how that happened.

    “I was somebody who felt something like this couldn’t happen to me,” she said.

    Anheuser-Busch’s corporate responsibility arm got interested in her and began to sponsor her.

    “This is my fourth year sponsored by Anheuser-Busch,” she said.

    This makes it possible for her to travel the country, speaking. Jennifer Novitsky, of P.A. Short Distributing Co., brought her to Staunton River.

    Staunton River’s YOVASO (Youth of Virginia Speak Out) club sponsored the school assembly.

    “The reason she’s here is because of what our YOVASO kids have been doing,” commented Corporal David Mays, the school resource officer.

    The club has been active. Mays said that club members joined a traffic checkpoint on Hardy Road to spread the word about seat belts and driving sober. Officers from Bedford County and Roanoke checked driver’s licenses while the teens carried out their seatbelt campaign. They plan to get together with Franklin County’s YOVASO, in May, on a summer driving safety campaign.

    The assembly also included a YOVASO check presentation to Bedford Domestic Violence Services. The students raised $700.

    Connie St. John, director of Bedford Domestic Violence Services, has had a regular relationship with the school. Her organization offers talks on dealing with dating violence. She said that Staunton River is the only school that takes advantage of this service.