BAXTER - She lost her driver's license for 10 years, spent four months in jail and will be on probation for 15 years. But worst of all, 21-year-old Annie Bahr has to live with the fact that she was responsible for the death of her friend in a drinking and driving accident.
Her voice wavering - forcing her to stop speaking at times - and tearful, Bahr shared her story of her alcohol-related crash on June 13, 2005, in which her friend, Jackie Saddler, was killed and three others were injured.
A 2003 Brainerd High School graduate, Bahr spoke to about 200 people, parents and their teens at a driver safety seminar for teen drivers Thursday at the Northland Arboretum.
The free seminar, sponsored by Brainerd Insurance Agency Inc. and Northwest Pizza, was offered to educate teen drivers and their parents about new laws affecting teen drivers and to hear Bahr's personal story about how her life dramatically changed after her accident.
Annie Bahr, 21, spoke to about 200 parents and teens at a teen driver safety seminar Thursday at the Northland Arboretum in Baxter. Bahr spoke about her involvement in an alcohol-related crash that killed her friend, Jackie Saddler. Saddler's parents, Jack and Denise, also attended the seminar. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The seminar also was held in connection with the Crow Wing County Passenger Safety Coalition. Sgt. Curt Mowers of the Minnesota State Patrol and Brainerd Assistant Police Chief Corky McQuiston also spoke, as did Sara Pusc of Brainerd Insurance, about the consequences of drinking and driving and aggressive and inattentive driving.
Bahr is now working at Just For Kix and helped with the BHS gymnastics program, having taken a year off from college at the University of North Dakota. She plans to return to college this fall, she told the audience.
She explained how, after leaving a party, she lost control of her car around a curve near Breezy Point around 3:30 a.m. on June 13, 2005, and how her car collided with another vehicle with three other young adults inside. Her friend, Jackie Saddler, was unconscious in the passenger side. Bahr said she was rushed to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd while Saddler was airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital.
"I kept asking, 'Where is my friend? I want to know what's going on with her,'" Bahr said. Her blood sample was taken to determine her blood alcohol level and a police officer picked her up at the hospital and took her to the Crow Wing County Jail.
Later that morning, all alone and left worrying about her friend, Bahr said her attorney came to the jail and told her something she will never forget:
"'I have really bad news for you. You are responsible for your friend's death,'" Bahr was told by her attorney. "Those words will never leave my mind."
Parents and their teen drivers were given packets of information Thursday at the seminar. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Bahr told the teens that she still feels guilt over her friend's death and some days are tough for her. What she said drives her to succeed is the support and encouragement she's received from Saddler's parents, Jack and Denise, who attended Thursday's seminar.
Bahr said she had a lot of time to think in jail, and spent the one-year anniversary of the accident and of Saddler's death in jail, serving out her jail sentence. It was a difficult day, she said.
Before the crash, Bahr said she had planned to go into early childhood education. Now she has decided to return to college and go into social work and/or counseling so she can help others. She said speaking publicly about the accident has helped her work through her own pain and shame.
"I just want to tell these kids things can happen to you. If you do decide to drink, designate someone to drive. I don't want anyone to go through what I did. It's not a fun thing, trust me," Bahr said. "I'm an average kid to have something like this happen. I never thought this would happen to me. Well, it did."
Bahr said she has lost friends because she has given up alcohol and isn't "cool to hang out with anymore." She said she feels more in control of her life now that she doesn't drink. She said she has lost her license for 10 years but can apply for a worker's permit. She said it's been difficult relying on others for rides.
About 200 parents and teens listened as Sgt. Curt Mowers of the Minnesota State Patrol spoke at a free driver safety seminar Thursday night at the Northland Arboretum. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"My cousin in fourth grade will get a license before I do," Bahr said. "That's a reality check."
At times, Denise Saddler wiped tears from her eyes as she listened to Bahr talk about the accident that killed her 20-year-old daughter. The Saddlers said they wanted to come to see if Bahr's story would make a difference to the teens in the audience. It is what they hoped for, they said.
"We're hoping that it hits home," Jack Saddler said. "We wanted a good turnout."
"You need to see the kids get it," Denise added. "And we are very proud of Annie."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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