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The power of forgiveness

Alpha Delta Pi hosts guest speakers to educate students on the dangers of drunk driving

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In four seconds, 24-year-old Eric Smallridge went from having a college degree and career plan in mind to being in a prison cell. On Mother’s Day, 2002, Smallridge woke up to a nightmare, his life totaled by the two sophomore college women dead in the torn vehicle on the road he once shared with them.

“A decision can be so dramatic that you graduate from college in April and you go to prison in June,” Smallridge said. “That’s what happened to me.”

At a speaker event hosted by Alpha Delta Pi on Feb. 22, Renee Napier told the story of her daughter, Meagan Napier.

Meagan Napier was liked by her peers; she treated everyone with respect and service. She met a girl, Lisa, her freshman year of high school, and Lisa would soon be her best friend.

“They treated you like you were the most important person they were talking to at the moment,” said Renee Napier, Meagan’s mother.

The day before Mother’s Day, Meagan Napier met with her mother for lunch. That night, her mother called her and asked her to meet her again the next day on Mother’s Day so she could see two of her daughters. That would be the last phone call Renee Napier would make to her daughter Meagan.

“Be sure in the course of your day to end the conversations you have as positively as you can,” Renee Napier said. “We don’t know when last conversations will take place.”

On the same day that Smallridge decided to drink a few beers with his friends at a bar near the beach, Meagan and Lisa would also decide to go to the beach. At approximately 2:30 a.m., Smallridge was driving at 35 miles per hour under the influence when a white vehicle cut in front of him. Smallridge attempted to move out of the way when he hit Meagan and Lisa’s car, sending it into a spin. Megan and Lisa died immediately.

On Mother’s Day, Renee Napier went to her daughter’s funeral. What she saw as a “parent’s worst nightmare” resulted from one choice—to drink and drive.

“There’s a lot of good people that are making that choice and are killing people with that choice,” Renee Napier said. “It all boils down to making a choice.”

Smallridge was remorseful when he discovered what he did, and apologized to the Napier family in a tense courtroom with tears and regret.

“If you could have been there and witnessed that scene first-hand, your life would have been changed,” Renee Napier said. “Nobody won. Nobody can win in this situation. It doesn’t matter how long Eric Smallridge is in prison, Meagan and Lisa aren’t coming back.”

Smallridge received 22 years in prison, 11 for Meagan and 11 for Lisa. However, the Napier family asked the judge to reduce his sentence to an 11 year concurrent sentence after going through a healing process of forgiveness.

“When you forgive someone, you’re not telling someone that what they did was okay,” Renee Napier said. “You’re just letting go of it. You’re doing it so you can heal, so you can move forward. It doesn’t in any way betray them. Meagan and Lisa would have wanted us to forgive.”

Because of their forgiveness, Smallridge was able to come to Jacksonville University to share his story and encourage students, alongside Napier, to make a promise not to drive under the influence, get in the car with someone driving under the influence, or let a friend drive under the influence.

“Thinking that it’s not going to be you is not going to cut it,” Smallridge said. “The only way you know it’s not going to be you is if you don’t do it. Don’t be like the guy I was. Don’t be like the guy who was so cool and had it all figured out.”

Smallridge and Napier encouraged the audience to make positive choices that would empower their lives and the lives around them. They wanted them to realize that when it comes to peer pressure, the pressure of one’s self is always the strongest.

The best way to avoid this situation, Napier said, is to make a plan. Risking the lives of others for one night of fun is not worth the consequence.

“We couldn’t figure it all out,” Smallridge said. “You can.”

Students interested in the story of Meagan Napier and the dangers of driving under the influence can visit


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The power of forgiveness