Expression, communication, community
By forgiving her daughter's killer, one mother is proving that love and compassion can save lives, Naples News reports.
Nearly a decade ago, Eric Smallridge was driving drunk in Pensacola, Fla., when he lost control of his car and struck another vehicle, instantly killing 20-year-olds Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson.
Convicted of DUI manslaughter, Smallridge has spent most of the past decade in a jail cell.
When Renee Napier, Meagan's mother, heard the news of her daughter's accident, she said the grief was incomprehensible.
"The wailing and crying that comes from the depths of your soul," she recalled to ABC News last year. "The pain is so horrible."
Napier then made it her life's mission to prevent more unnecessary deaths like Meagan's. Dedicated to her daughter and her friend Lisa, Napier founded The Meagan Napier Foundation for DUI awareness.
For many years, Napier would organize events around Florida, speaking about the dangers of driving under the influence, moving thousands of people with her story.
But, as she told ABC News, she kept feeling like something was missing.
"I knew from the beginning that if I could have Eric with me -- that would be very powerful," she said.
Napier lobbied to have Smallridge join her in her presentations -- and since 2010, the two have formed the unlikeliest of partnerships as they rally around a common cause, Gulf Breeze News reports.
"I never thought I'd be wearing this striped suit. I was ten feet tall and bulletproof," Smallridge, wearing a prison jump suit and shackles, told a group of Baron Collier High School students in Naples, Fla., this week. "Make it a point not to be [me]. Don't reduce your life to shackles and chains."
During the presentations, Napier shares her story and screens this video about her daughter and Smallridge, appealing to students to promise never to drink and drive.
Though she has said that she cannot forget, Napier says that she has forgiven Smallridge for killing her child.
"I could be angry, hateful and bitter," Napier said. "But I didn’t want to live my life that way. There was no way I could move on and live a happy life without forgiving Eric."
Napier has said that she has grown to love Smallridge and his family and now considers him to be like a "son" to her.
Smallridge was initially expected to be released in 2022, but Napier lobbied to cut his prison sentence in half. He is now due to be released in November.
"I didn't want him serving too long so that he would leave with a criminal mind," she said.
Smallridge will be 34 when he is released. He told Naples News that even though Napier has forgiven him, he doesn't know if he'll ever forgive himself.
"I was so selfish because I never considered what effect drinking and driving could have on someone other than me. I made a bad decision, and now two young people are dead because of it," he told Gulf Breeze High School students in 2010. He has said that he has no intention of drinking alcohol ever again.
Though they admit that their relationship may confuse many, both agree that sharing this life-saving cause has helped them heal.
"Whenever I see Renee Napier, I just see an angel," Smallridge told ABC News.
"We live in a world with a lot of pain and heartache, I want to promote love and forgiveness and help break that cycle of hatred," said Napier.