Out in the Open

A drunk driver apologizes to the family of the person he killed

How saying “I’m sorry” changed the lives of the driver and the victim’s mother in an astonishing way
Renée Napier and Eric Smallridge became unlikely friends after Smallridge apologized for killing Napier's daughter while driving drunk in 2002. (Provided by Renée Napier)
Renée Napier's daughter Meagan died in 2002 after her car was hit by a drunk driver. At first, Renée felt only anger toward the young man driving that car. She asked herself, "Why did he live, and my daughter die?"

Eric Smallridge apologizes at his sentencing hearing

6 years ago
Duration 0:50
Eric Smallridge apologizes at his sentencing hearing

Eric Smallridge is the name of that man. In 2003 he was sentenced to 22 years in prison on two counts of DUI manslaughter for killing both Renée's daughter Meagan and the other young woman in the car, Lisa Dickson.

Through all of this, the last thing Renée expected was to become friends with the man who killed her daughter.

Eric first said "I'm sorry" to Renée in an apology letter that he wrote before he was sentenced. Then, he apologized in person at the sentencing hearing.
Meagan Napier was killed by drunk driver Eric Smallridge in 2002 (Renée Napier )

Those two apologies lead to a remarkable relationship between Eric and Renée.

"The words 'I'm sorry' are kind of like the door that opens … that door to healing," said Renée.

"If people want to find healing and If we want to stop violence, I think that people need to sit down, and a person needs to say 'I'm sorry', and then a person needs to say 'I forgive you'."

This story originally aired on January 15, 2017