Pike holds drunk driving event following member’s death


Sylvana Caruso/The Daily Northwestern

Sarah Panzau-Evans speaks to students at the Technological Institute on Thursday. Panzau-Evans, who lost most of her left arm in a drunk driving accident, urged students to make good decisions concerning drunken driving and to look out for their peers.

Shane McKeon, Assistant Campus Editor

Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity hosted an event on drunken driving Thursday, just more than eight months after a member of the chapter died in a drunk driving accident.

Mihirtej Boddupalli, who would have been a McCormick senior, was killed in a drunk driving accident in July after a car he was riding in crashed into a water-filled quarry in Naperville. The driver, a then-rising McCormick senior Michael Szot, escaped the car, but Boddupalli and rising Indiana University senior Sajaad Syed drowned. Northwestern told The Daily in September that Szot was no longer enrolled at the University. While at NU, Szot was a member of Pike.

Pike hosted speaker Sarah Panzau-Evans to talk about her experience in a 2003 drunk driving accident, where she lost most of her left arm. She has since used the experience to encourage students to make better decisions concerning drinking and driving. More than 100 students attended the event.

She said she was a star volleyball player in high school and played for a small, two-year college near her hometown. She eventually dropped out and began bartending at 19, at which time, she said, partying and alcohol took over her life.

“I was just like you guys not too long ago, sitting there thinking I had my entire life ahead of me, that this would never happen to me,” she said. “I’m sure most of you in here thought that once or twice … but it does happen.”

While Panzau-Evans said she takes responsibility for her actions that night, she points out that her friends let her “stumble out through that door” and drive. After the accident, she said, none of her friends visited her in the hospital.

Her mother, though, the woman she had rebelled against as a teen, supported her most throughout her recovery.

“I thought that woman woke up everyday to make me miserable,” she said. “And you know what? That woman never left my side.”

Communication junior Daniel Goldberg, Pike’s philanthropy chair, helped organize the event. He said the chapter also sold cake pops to raise money for Students Against Destructive Decisions, a group that aims in part to prevent drunk driving among young people.

He said a personal story like Panzau-Evans’ helps students to understand drunk driving beyond what they learned in middle and high school.

“A lot of the training on drunk driving we get in middle school and high school is through an academic environment,” he said. “It’s much more effective to get a personal story like Sarah’s.”

McCormick senior Nikhil Byanna, a member of Pike and a friend of Boddupalli, opened the event and introduced Panzau-Evans.

“Mihir was a great friend of all of ours, and being in college … drunk driving isn’t something we necessarily think about all the time,” he said. “But as we grow up and graduate and move to the suburbs or places where it’s a lot more common, it’s something we’ll need to take a lot more seriously.”

Much of the talk was emotional, with Panzau-Evans’ voice cracking at times.

She said “not one day” of her life has been easy since the crash.

“I never thought about the lifelong consequences,” she said. “I certainly never thought this would be the body I’d be trapped in for the rest of my life, either. Girls, you can only imagine.”

However, she also spoke about things other than the accident. Panzau-Evans is recently wed and gushed about her new husband and stepchildren.

She also kept parts of her talk lighter with jokes. She concluded by urging attendees to remember “how easy it is to make people smile.”

“Be a good memory for people,” she said. “Be the best person you can be every single day.”

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Twitter: @Shane_McKeon