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Kansas woman who spoke after 17 years still struggling

HUTCHINSON, Kan. _ A woman who began speaking 17 years after being hit by a drunken driver "still doesn't have her life back," her mother said.

Betsy Scantlin spoke last week about her daughter, Sarah, who regained her ability to speak in 2005, 17 years after suffering brain injuries when a drunken driver hit her as she was walking across a street in Hutchinson.

"She can answer us and she can make statements, but she has never asked a question," Scantlin told a meeting of the Reno County DUI Impact Panel. "It's not what you would call a conversation, and I miss that. I wish I could say that it's OK now that she's talking, but all I can say is, she's talking. She doesn't have her life back. She'll never have her life back."

A a young man asked Scantlin what happened to the person who hit Sarah just after she turned 18 years old.

"He got the maximum sentence at the time," Scantlin answered. "But he doesn't remember hitting Sarah. I asked him once if he felt bad, and he said he did, but that he doesn't remember it. That is a real hard statement for me."

The impact panel was formed in 1992 to help spread information about the effects of drunken driving on families of wreck victims. It targets people on probation or going through the diversion process after being charged with drunken driving.

It also seeks to educate minors who have been charged with illegal consumption or with other alcohol and drug-related offenses.

"Our message is real simple," said Kansas Highway Patrol Capt. Alan Stoecklein. "If you drink, don't drive, and here is why."

Those at the sessions are typically under a court order to attend. They come from Reno, Buhler, Lyons and Kingman counties, said Cathy Nisly, municipal court probation officer and panel board member.

The panel has had some success since it was founded, Nisly said.

"As a probation officer, I have people who will come back from listening to a speaker and have come away realizing their actions affect others and how devastating it can be," she said.

Scantlin said she hopes those attending heard her message

"You always wonder if you make an impact," she said. "You hope you do. If you can reach just one, then that's one."

In 2006 there were 3,210 alcohol-related crashes in Kansas, about 5 percent of all wrecks. Those wrecks resulted in 108 deaths and 2,058 injuries, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation. Statistics for 2007 were not available.

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Information from: The Hutchinson News, http://www.hutchnews.com

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