On May 13, 1983, Anne Dean had the world ahead of her: She was 21 years old, had just graduated as a business major from Mary Washington College and had lined up a job. That night, she and a group of friends attended the school's graduation ball at a motel in Fredericksburg, Va.
"We had been drinking," she says. After midnight, she and her escort got into his father's Porsche. "We were going over back-country roads, winding up and down," she recalls. "We were coming up on a hill and went airborne. From what they pieced together afterwards, the car went into a skid, hit a phone pole and then a barbed wire fence. We were both thrown from the car. It traveled a distance and then caught fire." A passing truck driver spotted the car.
Anne Dean was hospitalized at the Mary Washington Hospital Center for 18 days. Most of that time she was delirious. "Then they moved me to the Washington Hospital Center shock trauma unit. That's when I became aware of my surroundings and my condition."
Her escort escaped with a broken collarbone. Anne Dean's pelvis was shattered, causing extensive internal injuries. She had received severe lacerations from the barbed wire." I had kidney failure and numerous infections from the barbed wire because the cows rubbed against it. I severed the artery to my left leg and lost a lot of muscle tissue with that." She was in the hospital center nearly three months. "When I came out of the Hospital Center I wasn't really able to move. I was wheelchair-bound. The simplest movements were the hardest achievements."
In the ensuing two years, she has had more than a half-dozen operations and still faces plastic surgery to repair scars. She underwent a year of physical therapy to recover the use of her leg.
"That early morning phone call turned my blood to ice," says her father, Reg Dean, a consultant who lives in Alexandria. "The first thing we were worried about was whether she was going to survive the loss of blood; then whether she was going to lose her leg; then the infections caused by the barbed wire damned near took her life. Her kidneys stopped and they continued to be shut down well past hope of any recovery. She lost her speech, then her vocal cords came back." She would pass one hurdle and "darned if another one didn't take its place," he says.
He blames the accident on a combination of factors: "The college's acceptance of graduating classes' desires to have parties off campus; the motel's lack of control on the quantity of alcohol available and consumed; excessive amounts of alcohol freely brought in and consumed by graduates and their guests; a lingering public attitude that having fun meant lots of liquor and that on special occasions it was okay to really go overboard, and culminating with Anne's lack of judgment at a crucial time.
"Many of these things have changed over the years," he says, pointing to a hardening stand by the public on drinking and driving and legislation being passed across the country to raise the drinking age.
Efforts to reduce alcohol-related accidents here are being coordinated by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a coalition of business, government and community leaders that has been developing awareness and safety programs for the past two years. While alcohol-related traffic deaths declined by 12 percent here in 1984, the number involving drivers under 21 increased by 18 percent, according to a WRAP survey.
This year, WRAP's "Project Graduation" is focusing on parents' responsibilities to prevent drunk driving by their kids or young people at parties in their homes. It is distributing brochures warning parents of their legal liability if they serve minors who are subsequently involved in accidents. The brochures also advise parents to talk to their teen-agers about drinking and driving and offers a list of tips on how to supervise a drug- and alcohol-free party. A hotline -- AAA-LIFT -- is being set up to provide youngsters with free rides home. Anne Dean and her father are helping publicize "Project Graduation," so that others will not go through what they did. "Just getting into the car like that has taken two years of my life and put it on a standstill," she says.
Drunk driving is the leading cause of death and disabling injuries among the nation's youth. What happened to Anne Dean can be prevented. She says she had a choice that night: She didn't have to get into the car. She wants other young people to know the price she paid, so they won't make the same mistake.