Sometimes, it’s the most painful moments in life that lead us to discover just how strong we really are.
For one mother in Gulf Breeze, the news came out of nowhere, in the middle of the night, the deadliest time to be on the roads.
“She looked at me and said, ‘There’s been an accident. It’s Meagan. She didn’t make it,'” Renee Napier recalled. “And that’s when my whole world fell apart.”
Napier awakened May 11, 2002 to the news that one of her twin daughters, Meagan, and Meagan’s friend, Lisa Dickson, had been killed in a car crash in Gulf Breeze. The driver who hit them was drunk.
“Anger for me came pretty quickly,” Napier said.
That anger was directed at 24-year-old Eric Smallridge.
“Two people had just lost their life based on a very flawed decision on my part,” Smallridge said.
Napier said she was filled with rage at Smallridge and at God.
“I used to talk to him in my car and say you need to show up! You need to send an angel, send someone, to explain this,” Napier said.
No explanation came, but a realization did. She realized that to survive herself, she had to forgive.
The answer came the day Smallridge was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
“I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘Eric I forgive you,'” Napier recalled.
That began a remarkable friendship between the two. Then, about 9 years into Smallridge’s sentence, the Napier and Dickson families went before the judge on Smallridge’s behalf and requested a reduced sentence. Smallridge was released just a few months later.
“It changed my life forever,” he said.
Following his release, Napier and Smallridge teamed up to spread the message of the dangers of drinking and driving.
They speak at high schools and civic groups across the country. Their story even inspired the hit Christian song “Forgiveness.”
Napier says Meagan would have loved the song and would have approved of her act of forgiveness.
“Meagan would have wanted me to do this. I believe she’s in Heaven … She knows the healing that comes from forgiving.”
If you’d like to learn more about the duo’s work to stop drunk driving, click here to read about the Meagan Napier Foundation.
Watch News 5 each Friday as Drexel Gilbert take us “On The Road” in Northwest Florida to introduce us to remarkable people doing remarkable things.