Pensacola mom says, “Don’t drink and drive”
By Carrie A. Mizell
The auditorium at Trenton High School was eerily quiet on Thursday afternoon as the mother of a young girl killed by a drunk driver talked about her daughter’s life being cut short at the age of 22 in a horrible accident that never should have happened.
Tears streamed down several students’ faces as they listened to Renee Napier talk about her daughter Megan’s cheerful personality and dreams for the future.
Renee Napier receives a hug from Trenton High School student Rebekah Manbeck
as THS student Kathryn Giardino and Eric Smallridge look on.
Eric Smallridge was also crying as he listened to Napier speak and share with students that Thursday would have been her daughter’s birthday had she not died in 2002 when Smallridge made the decision to drink and drive.
Smallridge’s blood alcohol level was .20, more than twice the legal limit when he made the fateful choice to drive his Jeep home from Pensacola Beach after partying with friends. He drove his vehicle into the back of a small car carrying Megan Napier and her best friend Lisa Dickson. The crash occurred with such force that it snapped the back of the driver and passenger seat off on impact and also broke both girls’ necks before the vehicle ran off the highway and crashed into a tree.
On Thursday, Smallridge, who is now serving an 11-year prison sentence, urged juniors and seniors not to make the same mistake he did. The son of a JAG attorney and Leon County School District employee, Smallridge had just finished college himself and was headed for a promising future when he decided to drink and drive.
Since the accident, the Napier and Dickson families have chosen to forgive Smallridge for a mistake that forever changed the lives of three families, but that does not bring back the two girls who died, or fill the void that Renee Napier says will forever be in her heart.
“I am so sorry and I take full responsibility for the accident,” Smallridge said in a video shown to students.
He also urged the students to take a few minutes and not think about their high school prom, which was held the following night, but to focus on the message before them.
“You may think that you can get away with drinking and driving because you have in the past,” Smallridge said. “You may even think you’re really good at it, but let me tell you it only takes one time.”
Napier travels the state speaking to high school students about the reality of drinking and driving. When he is able, Smallridge, who will be released from prison in 2012, speaks alongside Napier.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 percent of all traffic related deaths in 2009 were caused by alcohol-impaired driving crashes. That’s 10,839 people who did not have to die.