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NEWS | April 11, 2012

Survivor relives a terrifying night

By Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Hudson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The date was Nov. 3, 2007 in Jacksonville, Fla., a day just like any other day for Navy Lt. William Sever and his wife, Lori. But as the sun set below the horizon, leaving the skies dark and cool, tragedy took its toll - significantly changing and threatening a successful Navy career.

On Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station, Sever is known as the Naval Support Activity Charleston administrative officer. But, he is also a father, a friend ... a husband, and on that starry cool night in 2007, his life passed before his very eyes as a drunk driver smashed into his vehicle, capturing both himself and his wife in death's grip.

"My wife and I had attended a 'Hail and Farewell' party," said Sever. "Afterwards we decided to go and grab a quick bite to eat before heading home. As we were driving home, we were talking about how great it was that I recently received my commission as an officer. We were also reminiscing about the past year's events and how we were both really looking forward to the following year - hoping that it wouldn't be so tough.

"Seconds after those words left my mouth we turned a corner and were faced with a full-size Chevy truck barreling straight toward us," he continued. "A part of me thought, really?

"But, I was completely terrified - it was like everything happened in slow motion but it happened so quickly. My wife was driving and she couldn't have maneuvered our car more perfectly than she did. If she hadn't swerved enough, we would have been run over and if she had moved the wheel too much she would have hit a tree and I probably wouldn't be here talking today.

"The events that happened that night changed everything for me - my career and my health."

Born in Lynnwood, Wash. in May 1976, Sever grew up in Saint Louis, Mo., surrounded by hardships, violence and plenty of opportunities to go down the wrong path. During his senior year of high school, Sever decided to follow in his step-father's footsteps and joined the military to serve his country.

In 1994, Sever entered the Navy as a Torpedoman's Mate, rising to the rank of first class petty officer in nine years.

"The Navy is definitely for me - I love every minute of it," Seaver said. "Back then, I wanted to make chief petty officer, but the average time in service for my rating to make E-7 took almost 18 years and I really didn't want to wait that long. I wanted to do more and go bigger - 'go big or go home' as they say. So, I applied and was accepted into the Seaman to Admiral Program and received my commission to become a Surface Warfare Officer."

Surface Warfare Officers work on board ships learning deckplate fundamentals by rotating through each department. They also stand watches on the navigation bridge to qualify as an Officer of the Deck and eventually earn their SWO pin. Sever started in the Engineering Department on board USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) as the main propulsions officer before moving onto his next position as Deck Department First Lieutenant. Not long after moving to the Deck Department, Sever and his wife were the victims of the drunk driver - an accident that changed the course of his career as he knew it.

"That night is still very clear to me; like it was just yesterday even though it has been a while now," he said. "Something like that sticks with you and is definitely not something that is easily forgotten.

"After we got hit, the first thing that came to my mind was to check on my wife - scared me to death," Sever continued. "She was not responsive and she seemed dazed - I didn't know if she was hurt. All I could see was glass all over the place. As soon as I went to move to try to get a closer look at my wife, I felt a jolt of pain piercing through my back. It hurt, but that definitely wasn't my priority at that time; checking on my wife was.

"I could definitely tell something was wrong. I got out of my side of the car and scrambled to my wife's side and ripped away the air bag to see if she was okay. I was so grateful that she was.

"Luckily, one of our friends who had also attended the dinner was following us and was able to witness everything first hand and called 911," he said. "While we were sitting there waiting for the police to show up the driver of the other car came staggering toward up asking if we were okay.

"At this point I had no idea he had been drinking until he was five feet away and I could smell the booze coming off of him. I was so overwhelmed with anger that I told my friend to just keep him away. I just continued to talk to my wife to make sure she was okay because we still didn't know if she had any further injuries like a head wound."

Once local police arrived, the driver was given a sobriety test which he failed and was arrested immediately. Two hours after the driver was taken into custody, he blew a .19 Blood Alcohol Content in a breathalyzer.

Not knowing how severely injured he was, Sever opted not to go to the emergency room that night but suffered the consequences the next morning as he wasn't able to walk.
From that point on, life for Sever has been a revolving cycle of pain specialists and neurologists. He was medically transferred from his ship and evaluated for a Fit-for-Duty status which could have ended his career.

"The thought of not being able to do what I loved devastated me," Sever said. "Luckily, I knew a few people who provided letters of recommendation that helped me get re-instated and moved into the administrative field, but I will never be able to go back to sea again.

"I still miss going to sea, but I found a new love in what I do," he explained. "Taking care of our Sailors is an incredibly important job that I get to do on a daily basis. To be able to help and guide a Sailor throughout their career is very rewarding. I thank my lucky stars and God above that I still have my life, some of my health, my wife and a career in the Navy."

According to the Centers of Disease Control, adults throughout the U.S. drank too much and operated motor vehicles approximately 112 million times in 2010. Men were responsible for four in five episodes of drinking and driving in 2010. Statistically men between the ages of 21 to 34 are more likely to drink and get behind the wheel of a car.
In a research report conducted by the S.C. Department of Public Safety, one person is killed in a Driving Under the Influence accident every 23.2 hours in S.C. In 2009, S.C. reported 894 total vehicle fatalities. Of those, 377 drivers were impaired. South Carolina ranked third in the top five states throughout the U.S. with the highest numbers of DUI's and fatalities.

"Not matter if you are an Airman or a Sailor, a plan needs to be in place when you go out and drink," Sever concluded. "Even if it is just calling a cab, that's a plan. Sometimes when people go out and drink they think they are okay to get behind the wheel of the car. The problem is their motor skills are compromised and they could cause an accident, or worse, take a person's life. The driver would be responsible for taking another person's life - taking them from somebody else: a friend, father, co-worker or significant other ... don't let that be you. Bottom line, be responsible, have a plan and most importantly, drink responsibly."

Service members who spend an evening in town should always have a plan if they are drinking. Sailors and Airmen need to designate a driver, have money for a cab or call Airmen Against Drunk Driving at 963-AADD.