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Jen accidentally caused a death

October 4, 2016. For Jennifer and her husband Chris, and their 4 children, it was just a regular Tuesday. Up until around 8 pm that evening. Jen was driving home and she had their two young daughters in the car.

Jen stopped at a stop sign, and then proceeded into the intersection without seeing the motorcycle that was approaching on her left. The motorcycle hit her car, and with that collision, the lives of two families were forever changed. David, the driver of the motorcycle, was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later.

With a story like this, there are a lot of different aspects to talk about. The feelings of guilt, her overwhelming sadness, her fear of possible criminal charges, and what happened when she had a chance encounter with one of David’s friends. She also talked about what she’s doing now to help others who have found themselves in similar situations.

This is a Flashback episode. Jen came on and told this story over 5 years ago, on the very first episode of this podcast. In a minute you’ll hear that, and afterward I’ll play a conversation I just had with Jen recently, to catch up on what’s going on with her lately. It’s a lot!

One of the takeaways from this conversation is that it’s good to see things from a different perspective. You know we hear about accidents like this almost every day, and it’s really easy to assume that the person is just some selfish jerk who was talking on their phone, or texting, or just not paying attention, even though we really don’t know what actually happened. Sometimes those assumptions are true, but not always. Today we get to hear the other side of that story.

Jen and family today
Jen and family today

 

Jen and Jada Pinkett Smith
Jen and Jada Pinkett Smith

 

The Safe 2 Save app that Jen mentioned:
https://www.safe2save.org/

Jen’s appearance on Red Table Talk with Jada Pinkett Smith –
https://www.facebook.com/redtabletalk/videos/481244670021721/

Jen’s podcast, Accidental Hope:
https://accidentalhope.com/

Jen’s book, Left Turn, life unimagined:
https://www.amazon.com/Left-Turn-life-unimagined-Eikenhorst/dp/B09Y9G9MS3/ref=mp_s_a_1_1

Jennifer is in the podcast Facebook group – come on over and say hi, or post a question for her that I didn’t ask – WhatWasThatLike.com/facebook.

Full show notes and pictures for this episode are here:
https://WhatWasThatLike.com/156

Graphics for this episode by Bob Bretz. Transcription was done by James Lai.

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Episode transcript (download transcript PDF):

October 4, 2016. For Jennifer and her husband Chris, and their 4 children, it was just a regular Tuesday. Up until around 8 pm that evening. Jen was driving home and she had their two young daughters in the car.

 

Jen stopped at a stop sign, and then proceeded into the intersection without seeing the motorcycle that was approaching on her left. The motorcycle hit her car, and with that collision, the lives of two families were forever changed. David, the driver of the motorcycle, was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later.

 

With a story like this, there are a lot of different aspects to talk about. The feelings of guilt, her overwhelming sadness, her fear of possible criminal charges, and what happened when she had a chance encounter with one of David’s friends. She also talked about what she’s doing now to help others who have found themselves in similar situations.

 

This is a Flashback episode. Jen came on and told this story over 5 years ago, on the very first episode of this podcast. In a minute you’ll hear that, and afterward I’ll play a conversation I just had with Jen recently, to catch up on what’s going on with her lately. It’s a lot!

 

One of the takeaways from this conversation is that it’s good to see things from a different perspective. You know we hear about accidents like this almost every day, and it’s really easy to assume that the person is just some selfish jerk who was talking on their phone, or texting, or just not paying attention, even though we really don’t know what actually happened. Sometimes those assumptions are true, but not always. Today we get to hear the other side of that story.

 

Scott

Jen, thanks for coming onto the show!

 

Jennifer  

Hi, Scott. Thanks for having me!

 

Scott 

Do you listen to podcasts?

 

Jennifer 

I’ve only listened to a few if I happen to stumble upon an advertisement on Facebook or something that catches my eye. I’m not a faithful follower of podcasts.

 

Scott 

Well, maybe someday.

 

Jennifer 

Maybe this summer. I’m off during the summer so, maybe, I can get caught up in the world of podcasts.

 

Scott  

You have been through a lot. Before we get into the event on that day in October, can you tell us a little bit about what was your life like before the accident? I know you’ve got some kids and your husband is a coach. Can you tell us a little bit about what was your life like before the accident?

 

Jennifer

Sure. I think about my life before the accident a lot. I’m the first-born daughter, so I have the first-born syndrome. I have one sister who’s younger than me. I love my parents. They are just some of the kindest and most supportive people you’ll ever meet. I grew up and lived in Dallas, Texas my whole life. I’m married to my husband for almost 17 years now. We have four beautiful children. Yes, he is a coach. He coaches everything at a small private Christian school. I’m a teacher. Life was normal. I don’t know if it was normal but I felt it was pretty normal. I’m a voter. I’m involved in our church, community, and all of those normal things. I studied special education. I worked in all kinds of different schools. We’ve been in ministry. We worked in a children’s home for several years. Our life was always unique before the accident. I feel that we have adversity. I tell people that our marriage was kind of founded on the struggle. We got married young. Nobody wanted us to get married – we were just babies – but we were so in love and it worked out. So far, it worked out. Yeah, we were doing good!

 

Scott 

Not too long before the accident, you had some medical issues with one or two of your daughters – did I read that correctly?

 

Jennifer  

Yes. When our oldest daughter was three, she had neurosurgery to correct a tumor that had developed in the syrinx within her spine. Through that process – which was, like, 8-9 months – we got a diagnosis and found out that two of our daughters have cranial synostosis. It’s a neurological deformity of the brain. You can’t really tell it, sometimes, just by looking at them but it can create complications later to the syrinx in her spine. So, she had surgery at the age of 3 years old because she was trying to explain to me, “There are ants on my feet but there are no ants there.” So she had brain surgery at the age of 3. Later, we went through some other things with her. The short version of that is, basically, for the 8 months leading up, my family kind of had extreme emotional stress, but that was nothing compared to the accident. No previous things that I’ve ever experienced prepared me fully for that. I believe my children’s neurosurgery prepared me for that. My faith had been built up as I see things happen, so it helped in it.

 

Scott

I can see what you’re saying. You were already a little stressed out from going through all that.

 

Jennifer 

Right.

 

Scott 

On the other hand,  you’re also kind of exercising and making your muscles stronger. If you’re going through that kind of thing, it could make your mental outlook, maybe, stronger as well. Is that right?

 

Jennifer 

Right. Well, my faith was certainly stronger because I had witnessed God answer prayers and perform miracles for us, so it kind of becomes so real that nothing can take it away from you. However, the accident, actually, almost did that. I almost lost hope and faith as I was working through my accident.

 

Scott  

Alright. Tell us about October 4, 2016.

 

Jennifer  

It was just a normal day. I want to tell you that I’m not OCD or particular about anything. I mean, I like to leave the toothpaste off the toothpaste thing and that drives my husband crazy. I leave cabinet doors open. I’m an artist and I do maths, so I’m kind of all over the place. But when it comes to driving, I’m kind of particular or, maybe, even arrogant before the accident. I could tease my husband like, “Well, someone has a ticket,” because he had tickets and I’ve never had a ticket. He had four total car accidents and I’ve never had an accident. So, I would tease him pretty regularly – if I had the opportunity – before the accident.

 

It was a normal Tuesday in October. I taught in class. The kids were very busy. The boys had swimming practice. Katie had volleyball. We all had our own little haven. Because the boys were at swimming practice, I couldn’t stay for volleyball, so I asked a friend of mine to take Katie and she’s like, “Oh, yeah. I’ll get her! We’re actually going to eat as a team after the game.” I was like, “Great! I’m going to be at the YMCA.” She said, “Well, I’ll just bring her to you after we’re done eating.” I was like, “Awesome! Great! Thank you!” I watched the sunset. There was a huge window where I was and I enjoyed watching the sunset. We were, kind of, on a downside, I think, and I was kind of de-stressing to school which had already turned into a routine. I felt like I could finally start getting back into the gym and making good use of that swimming practice. So, I felt it was a good and great day. About 8.00PM when I had just finished my workout, I got a text from my friend. She said that she is going home to drop off her daughter first and, then, she’ll head to the gym to drop off my daughter. I just wrote back and said, “Well, that doesn’t make sense. If you’re home, stay home. I’ll just come to get Katie instead.” I didn’t want her to come, drop Katie off, and get back out. So, I went to go get Katie and I said hi to my friend. It was just starting to get chilly – not like terribly cold, but chilly. So Katie ran to the car and we were just talking about the game: “How’d you do during that third match? Did you score any goals? How was your serve?”

 

Scott  

So both girls were with you at this time.

 

Jennifer

Right. My 4 and 12-year-old kids were with me. I knew my friend’s home. I’ve been there, mainly, during the day, but not as much during the night. It had just started getting dark by 8.00 PM. When I got to the road – I said “main road” but it’s a country road – there isn’t really anything past that subdivision or, at least, that’s what I thought. I had never really turned right and explored there. On that country road, I’ve always just gone left. When I came to a stop sign, I was just talking to my daughter and, then, I started to turn. At the same time, there was a man coming on his motorcycle to my left up the hill. I didn’t see him until I entered the lane. It just happened so fast. So much has happened during that fast time. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, that’s a car!” I remember looking back over my shoulder and seeing my daughter and her face just lit up with light. My only thought was to accelerate and that was what I did. I just accelerated and I braced for impact. Literally, everything happened so fast. Yeah, I looked over at my daughter. All I can explain is that the whole car was just filled with light. There was no light and then, suddenly, there was so much light. I looked at her face, saw her jaw just drop, I braced for impact, but there was no impact.

 

I mean, there was just a little impact. I didn’t understand what that meant at first. I had already accelerated. There were some skid marks on the street where I just accelerated. I kind of ended up in a ditch on the other side of this country road. I mean, we’re in a country road and I ended up in a ditch in front of someone’s property. I don’t even completely know how to describe how life can change instantly for someone, not just for this sweet man that was there, but for us and his children. Basically, I had a collision with a motorcyclist and it took me a second to just think about what just happened. My brain was preparing to be crunched or something. Then, Katie said, “Mama, did someone just hit us?” I had to say, “Yeah, I think they did.” Katie was already crying. Haven didn’t understand so she started crying. I looked in the rearview mirror and that’s when I saw him… There was light from his motorcycle and I realized what had happened.

 

So I looked over at my 12-year-old and I said, “Stay in the car and pray. Mommy got to go and help him.” I grabbed my phone and I shut the door. Both my girls were just crying in the car. I ran in the dark towards him because we didn’t have any light. The thing about this intersection is it’s really not a good spot from either side because there’s kind of a slight elevation from the right and a higher elevation from the left. So, it’s a spot where we were both in a very dangerous place especially because I had a black car. My black car was just in a ditch with my girls in it. I didn’t turn the hazard lights on. I didn’t think of doing any of those things. I just turned the car off and left them. I took the cell phone and I called 911. When I got there, he was not responsive. Suddenly, I lost all of my thoughts. I didn’t know the street name of where I was. I just did whatever the 911 operator told me to do. Suddenly, there was a neighbor. I mean, I was screaming, I was waving my hand, and I was trying to do what the operator to do. Some parts of me can’t even recreate this little space and time completely. There were some things I remember and some things I can’t even answer. I was shocked. Later, I kind of looked back to see how long was I on the 911 call and it was only less than 3 minutes. I can’t even process how did that all happened.

(1st Call)

Jennifer 

Please help me! I need help!

 

911 Operator 

Okay. Where are you at?

 

Jennifer 

We got into an accident! We’re in the middle of a road! Please, please…

 

911 Operator 

Okay. What’s going on, ma’am?

 

Jennifer 

I hit a man on a motorcycle!

 

911 Operator  

You hit a man on a motorcycle? Okay.

 

Jennifer 

Please come quickly! Please send some help!

 

911 Operator 

Ma’am, do you know what street this is?

 

Jennifer  

I know, honey– it’s okay, it’s okay. Stop crying. Oh my God–

 

(Silence)

 

911 Operator 

I don’t know where that is.

 

Jennifer 

Does anybody know where this street?! Davis Road?

 

911 Operator 

Davis Road?

 

Jennifer 

David Road! Please bring an ambulance!

 

911 Operator 

Ma’am, slow down for me. Is he breathing?

 

Jennifer  

He’s breathing.

 

Man  

Ma’am, how are you doing?

 

Jennifer 

Please help! (Inaudible)

 

911 Operator  

Ma’am? Ma’am?!

 

Man  

Okay, I’m here with you. Yes, sir?

 

911 Operator  

Okay. Can you tell me what’s going on up there?

 

Man  

Yeah. There is a man wrecked on a motorcycle on Davis Road.

 

911 Operator  

Okay. Is the motorcyclist awake?

 

Man  

Hard to say. There’s a head injury so I’m not sure. He said he was breathing but he’s not responding.

 

911 Operator  

Not responding?

 

Man  

Okay, he’s breathing a little bit. There’s some movement happening.

 

911 Operator  

There’s some movement happening? Okay.

 

(2nd call)

Woman 

Hi. There’s an emergency.

 

911 Operator 

Go ahead, ma’am.

 

Woman 

Motorcycle accident on Davis road at Grand Harbor estates.

 

911 Operator 

Okay. Are there any injuries?

 

Woman  

Yes, there’s a man in the middle of the road. They’re doing CPR on him right now. Some people stopped and pulled over. We need an ambulance.

 

911 Operator  

Okay. We do have another call. We’ve already gotten medics on the way out there. You said that he’s on the road?

 

Woman 

Yes, he is in the very middle.

 

911 Operator 

Okay. And what was your name?

 

Woman

My name is–

 

911 Operator 

Okay. You said that they are doing CPR. Are they–?

 

Woman 

Yep.

 

911 Operator 

Okay. The medics are on their way out there.

 

Woman 

Okay, thank you.

 

Jennifer 

So I did what they told me to do. I checked for breathing and he was still breathing. It was just really shallow.

 

Scott 

Were your daughters still in the car?

 

Jennifer 

Yeah. They were still in the car and I could hear them screaming “Mama!” but I couldn’t go to them because I didn’t want to let go of his hand. Suddenly, there was a neighbor. I consider this neighbor a hero. I think his name was Richard. I tried to send him a “Thank You” note. I don’t know if he ever got it. He took over what the operator was telling us to do because I was trying to do compressions but I wasn’t strong enough. So, he took over and he was above him. I don’t know how long he was there before. Miraculously, there was a trooper that was just, literally, a couple of blocks away when they got the call. She got there really quickly and start giving him oxygen with a little mask. At that point, my hearing kind of went out and I could no longer hear the operator talk to me – I just couldn’t – and I don’t even know how to explain that. So, I just gave my phone to someone. I just held his hand, I prayed, and they did all the work. I mean, I just kind of melted. I didn’t have anything left in me. So there I was, suddenly, in this accident, scared to death for this man. I was shaking and in complete shock. They’re resuscitating him. Then, CareFlite came and took him to a hospital where he could get help. That was how that day ended. It was not how I would have ever thought that day would end.

 

Scott  

How can you just go home from that and act like everything is normal anymore…

 

Jennifer 

Nothing was normal and it’s still not normal. Before and after the accident, there was life before and life after, there was Jennifer before and Jennifer after. I’m a different person not just emotionally but neurologically. I’ve had my brain scanned. I have trauma in my brain like, they can see the gray matter called “Low waves.” This is one of the therapies that I tried and she could even see that my brainwaves have changed since my accident. So, that night, there were lots of miracles that happened. I was grateful that we could resuscitate him enough to where he got to a hospital and his children had 48 hours with him before he passed away, technically, on October 6. So I’m sure his family thinks of him on October 6 but, for me, it was always going to be October 4. I mean, I don’t know for sure. When we were still alone, I thought he was going to say something. I actually thought I got his attention. The operator had asked me to listen for breathing and see if his chest was moving. I thought he was going to speak to me and he just exhaled. I hold that that little moment very sacred.

 

Scott  

And his name is David?

 

Jennifer 

His name was David.

 

Scott  

Do you know anything about his family?

 

Jennifer 

I know very little. I mean, I’ve tried to be pretty respectful of the family. This is something that I feel that, maybe, the public should know because people were very shocked when I tell them this. Families who have experienced something like this would know this. We are advised immediately to not speak to the family. We are advised not to go to the hospital. We are advised to never try to initiate contact. We are not just advised but STRONGLY advised.

 

Scott 

This is advised by friends or legal?

 

Jennifer 

No. Legal – by lawyers, insurance, and state trooper. I still wrote them a letter. We lived in a small Texas town. I tried to do a little bit of research and, then, God would just provide little ways for me to learn something here and there. I know that he had three children. I know he had a deeply-involved brother. I know that he was a veteran. In fact, that’s where he was headed. I didn’t know that there was a VFW at just a couple– not even half a mile away. So, he was half a mile away from his destination. Not even half a mile – maybe, more like a quarter of a mile from where he was going. They did tell me he was a donor and I’m grateful for that. I have been told that he was a Christian and I’m grateful for that.

 

Scott  

Can you talk about – in the days and weeks following the accident – the support of your family, friends, and your church family? How big of a factor was that?

 

Jennifer 

It was everything. I think I was in complete shock. I feel like I was kind of floating, especially while he was still in ICU. I was continuously praying that he would survive and that there would just be some kind of miracle. I was doing that and that was it. For me, I just wanted him to live. I was in complete shock in the first few days. No one we knew really has a precedent or any kind of prior knowledge on how to deal with this – except my pastor who had been through something similar, actually, the year before. So, they were the ones that came to me. My husband came and got the girls. They had to block off the street at both sides. He had to come and get the girls from me and, later, our pastor and his wife came to the scene to pick me up. It took several hours to process the scene. I just sat there and they came to help me. What’s crazy about that is that my pastor had a man throw himself into oncoming traffic the year before. The man was very intoxicated and trying to commit suicide. So, when my pastor hit him, our church family rallied around him. Our pastor who is good friends with us had to go through the loss of sleep and loss of appetite.

 

Scott 

So he had a point of reference. He knew what you were going to go through.

 

Jennifer 

Right, in some ways, he kind of knew. It was deemed to be not his fault. He did not have other things that had led up to that. We had already been through some stress and we were still going through other stressors. Then, he was told, “It’s not your fault.” In my case, I take responsibility. It was my fault. I did cause this accident. I did not yield the right of way. I did not see him. I yielded to the stop sign but I didn’t see him. I don’t know why and I’ll never know why. I’ve asked my brain, “Why?!” I think that’s part of why I struggle now – because our bodies are like little machines. Like, our brains are still running in the background asking, “Why did that happen? Why didn’t you see him? If you don’t know why you didn’t see him, could it happen again?” That little voice and that little program are going on in the back of your head forever until you kind of have a concrete understanding. So yeah, our Pastor Jason and his wife, Susan, were amazing to us. They met me there. They drove my car home for me. They counseled Chris to watch over me, which I didn’t know at the time.

 

Scott  

So they told your husband to kind of keep an eye on you?

 

Jennifer 

Right. I was not eating and sleeping. I called my parents. The only people that I called were my husband and my parents while I was at the scene. I don’t think I really lost all appetite. Food had no taste. I literally had zero taste. I mean, I just drink water. I literally just floated around, kind of, dazed. I would hear people and I would interact. I mainly spent the next few weeks crying and weeping continuously. I just couldn’t sleep. Even when I laid my head down, I never went into REM sleep.

 

Scott

It’s a pretty big thing to not have REM sleep.

 

Jennifer 

Right.

 

Scott 

That’s a big thing. So, you were consciously processing the fact that he had passed away and you had to also be considering what’s going to happen to you?

 

Jennifer 

Yes. I actually asked my trooper in the car when he called me into his patrol car. I finally got the courage to say, “What’s going to happen to me? I’m a first-born. I want you to, like, shoot me straight. Whatever it is, tell me what it’s going to be, and then we’re going to face this. I’m a good girl. I don’t like to get in trouble. I struggle with pleasing people.” He had to think for a second and, then, he had to say, “Well, if he makes it, you’ll hear from a lawyer. His lawyer will probably get in touch with your insurance.” I was like, “Okay.” He said, “If he doesn’t make it, you’ll be hearing more from me and his family will probably get a lawyer.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “Every fatality in our county goes to the grand jury.”

 

Scott 

For people who aren’t familiar with the grand jury, they are a group of people that listen to all the facts and decide if charges are to be brought.

 

Jennifer 

Right. They do that to protect the city from being sued and to make sure that every investigation was thorough. It’s a scary thing because there are 12 people that would decide in the case and I would have met people who could go either way. We had to wait for three months. I hired the best criminal defense attorney in town. It was just weird to be told that you need a criminal defense attorney.

 

Scott 

Especially for someone like you who described yourself as a first-born and a rule follower, all of a sudden, you’ve broken the worst rule of all. How would your brain process that?

 

Jennifer 

Right. It’s an unforgivable worst thing. I mean, I was just in a complete shock. My therapist and our pastor said, “Hey, these were the facts. You were not speeding. You were not on your phone. You were not drinking and driving. You stopped at the stop sign. This is closed. This is done. I think it’s going to be in your favor.” My therapist kept saying, “I really feel like this is going to be in your favor.” But no one can give you absolutes. Of course, I feel like, “Maybe I should be punished. Maybe I deserve whatever they need to do. Do I need to die? Do I deserve this because I caused this? Do I deserve jail time? Am I a killer? Am I a monster?” These are all the thoughts I had to suddenly process. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around all the things that happened in a split second. It was extremely hard.

 

Scott 

How long did you have to wait to find out if charges were going to be brought?

 

Jennifer 

At about three months. We actually got the decision right before Christmas and that’s another miracle.

 

Scott 

Before we get to the grand jury decision, can you tell me about the one time you were having a cell meeting and you met a neighbor?

 

Jennifer

Right. So, I had a couple of big prayer requests. My prayer every day was for his kids to have a support system. I had a great support system because I had people around me, loving me, and walking me through it. I just prayed that they had that stability through their grief. So, that was one prayer. Another prayer I had was that I could somehow meet someone that knew him, but I was also kind of terrified that anybody I knew would know him. So, it’s funny. I wanted to meet someone that knew him to, maybe, kind of, know a little bit more about this man that I suddenly truly cared for, that I only knew for two minutes, but I feel like it was just the most important two minutes of his life.

 

I had been praying to meet someone, “Lord, I just want them to know that I’m not a monster and that I’m sorry.” So I was having this garage sale and I had a friend and my mom helping me there. Our neighbor came over and said, “Hey, how much do you want for this elliptical?” I was, like, “I’ll make you a good and great deal! I will make you a ‘neighbor special!’” He was just the sweetest man. I mean, I’ve seen him a lot. I knew that his wife was a gardener. He’s retired and coming and going. That’s pretty much all I knew about him. He said, “Oh, my wife would be so thrilled if I surprised her with this elliptical.” I was like, “Awesome!” Then, he paused for a second and he said, “Well, let me go run some veterans over to the VFW because I help people who can’t get around anymore. I am going to go drive them around a little bit and I’ll be back. If it’s still here, I want to buy it.” I said, “Well, I’ll hold it for you.” Then, my brain stopped. I knew what he was talking about and my heart just started pounding.

 

My mom and my friend were just sitting on their chair and I was sweating. I immediately felt anxious. I looked at him and reached out my hand to him, which is really kind of weird, like “What is she doing?” I grabbed his hand, I said, “Did you know David?” This was probably within a month to six weeks. I get really foggy on time. Time is difficult for me. He looked at me – I mean, I didn’t even say his last name, I just said, ‘David’ – and he said “Yes.” Then, I had to tell him, “It was me.” I think he had to kind of process that for a second. Then he was like, “I would have never thought that it was you.” When you hear about these accidents, you immediately think about these irresponsible, drunk, and selfish drivers. We all are guilty of this. I have eaten my own words – and I can tell you about that in a minute if you want to – in situations like this. So I said, “It was me,” and I began to shake and quiver. My mom started crying. Then, I said, “I’m so sorry that you lost a buddy. Please tell anyone at the VFW that I’m so very sorry for their loss.” He said, “Thank you. I will make sure I pass this on because they thought the person who did this was the worst. I’ll make sure I tell people,” because he kind of knew me before – just friendly neighbor-ish type stuff – and realize that I am broken. I mean, I just literally broke down. I mean, I almost felt like kneeling and letting him just, like, hit me or something. I mean, that’s kind of how I feel. I feel as if you need to be just– I don’t know.

 

Scott 

Just extreme guilt?

 

Jennifer 

Extreme guilt. It’s extreme guilt. But there’s nothing that can make this better. There’s no amount of money, there are no words that I could ever say, there’s nothing that I can truly do to make this better for anyone who loved this man. He was an innocent man but he lost his life very tragically. Yeah, I have to live with that. It’s kind of a daily thing. He did buy that elliptical and he was very sweet. I found out later that he did talk to his children or, at least, a family member on my behalf – which I didn’t know until later. I didn’t ask him to do that. He mentioned, “Hey, if you ever want to come and talk to the officers, we can invite you into the meeting and you can address the officers,” and I eventually did do that. That’s what happened. It was an answered prayer. It was very scary but it was also kind of relieving that I got to say “Sorry” to at least someone, pass on my condolences, share my heart, and it felt really good. I felt very, very grateful that the Lord would provide that. It was just amazing. I feel like that was a true miracle that he just happened to say that. Otherwise, I would have never known. If he just said, “Hey, I got to go drive a buddy to run an errand,” I would have never known. He just happened to say “VFW” and I happen to now know that. We were down the road. The accident happened within a mile from my home.

 

Scott 

Okay. You said that you got the news a few days before Christmas. How did that happen?

 

Jennifer 

We didn’t think it was going to happen. We were all praying that I would be seen by this grand jury. My attorney said that grand juries get seasoned. They have a term of 6 months. When they first get on their first session, they’re very sensitive and they don’t want to make anything wrong decisions because they don’t want to carry that burden either. I mean, can you imagine if you really had to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, like, “If this had been my husband?” On the day of the grand jury, I did prepare. My parents came into town. We had people who were praying and ready to be with us. I shipped out all the kids – they each had a friend to go to. It was the middle of the week but they got to go spend the night on a school night with friends. Our friends who knew what was happening were going to distract them. They had activities planned. Everything was fished out to make sure that Chris could just focus on me if I was indicted. They assured me, “If that happens, we’re going to put you in a safe place. You’ll do what’s called a walk-through.” Chris, my husband, didn’t really have kind of an emotional– he was emotional but it only became real the night before.

 

Scott 

Probably, as a man, he wanted to help but this was out of his control.

 

Jennifer 

Right. Before the accident, I was kind of that person who handle everything when Haven or Katie needed an MRI or a scan or a neurologist appointment. I kind of handled the insurance and the doctor’s appointments. I would take care of all those things for us. At one point, I kind of took care of finances. When I went to graduate school, he took over finances. He was always the leader of my home but I feel like – I don’t know how to describe it – I was that go-to person. Like, if it needed to be done, I could do those things and I could be reliable. I could juggle family, work, graduate school, and ministry but, now, I couldn’t do that. He knew that, at that moment, he had to kind of take on things that he never had to do in our 15 years of marriage, and he did it so wonderfully and so amazingly. He played out our vows. I mean, vows are no joke, whether it was just making sure that I ate or slept, or let me cry and just hold me. At that point, since the accident, he had really taken care of groceries and lunches for the kids for school. I mean, I literally could hardly do any of those things besides just breathing.

 

When we got to the grand jury, I did set up who was going to go where. I almost felt like I was back to my old self just for a brief little bit because I wrote out a piece of paper that said, “Okay, this is the contact information for so-and-so and they have so-and-so for one of our kids.” I laid it out for him in case I wasn’t there. That’s crazy. I don’t know if it was just a glimmer of how I used to be as I laid out all of these for him, like, “Here’s the doctor appointment. This is the time. This is where we’re going to be. This is the address.” Then, suddenly he broke down and I was strong again. But thankfully, the next day, everybody was ready. My lawyer said, “If you get a call from me, that means I need you to come down to the courthouse in case the grand jury wanted to ask you questions.” They told me that arraignment and things like that wouldn’t happen until after 5.00 PM. They kind of, I guess, see all the cases and then all the decisions are given out all at one time – that’s what they said the procedure is. So, we had expected to not know ‘yes’ or ‘no’ until 5.00 PM because they want to make sure that the grand jury has been dismissed and no one is aggressive or upset about their decision. So, we had all kind of taken the day off. Many people were surrounding us and everything had been figured out. My mom had just got there.

 

Then, my attorney’s office was calling my phone. I remembered just thinking, “Okay. He didn’t really prepare me for what they might say. He just told me to go through whatever they ask and just be as honest as you can.” So, I saw that call come in and, I think, I wanted to vomit. My mom looked at me and said, “Why don’t you go upstairs to take that call?” When I answered the phone, it wasn’t my lawyer so I was really confused. He said, “Jennifer, I’m the district attorney. The grand jury asked for me to call you personally and tell you that they’ve given you a no-bill, and they want you to have a Merry Christmas with your family.” I was just in shock because I wasn’t supposed to know until 5.00 PM, but it was probably 10.00 AM -ish – I don’t know. So, I received my no-bill. This was literally the week before Christmas and we hadn’t put up a tree. My mom hadn’t put up a tree. Basically, anyone who loved me has, kind of, like, paused thanksgiving. There was no normal family celebration when we got together – it was different.

 

Scott  

Like clout?

 

Jennifer 

Like clout. It wasn’t just clout just because I was facing something, I was also constantly feeling, like, “How should I get to celebrate when there is an empty chair that will not be filled at another family’s get-together? How dare I celebrate and enjoy myself with my loved ones when there are people missing him somewhere.” So it wasn’t just that because we did begin to celebrate. I was so grateful that that part could be behind me. That was certainly– I can’t even describe. I’ve been through brain surgery, signing a waiver, saying, “Your daughter might not make this,” or “She may be paralyzed,” and then I did it again. I mean, nothing can compare to that 90 days or 3 months of waiting to decide if I was going to jail. Now, I’ve met people who had complete freak accidents but were indicted – some are still found to be guilty – and they’re so amazing. I literally thought that my life and my marriage would be over. How could I even ask my husband to wait for me if I had to go serve time and jail? I just could not completely wrap my brain around it. Now that I’ve met other people, they are just so brave. I mean, I’m awed by the stories that I’ve now heard and people that I’ve met that have been through experiences like this which I thought, “Well, I just couldn’t have survived through this.” Now, I’ve met other people, heard their stories, and I’m in awe of them.

 

Scott 

Let’s talk about that a little bit. You have a blog and there’s a Facebook group. So, you are contacted regularly by other people who have gone through similar situations. What do you say to them? How do you tell them to get through it?

 

Jennifer 

You’re not alone. When I was in the weeks of this happening, I was searching for “grief”, “loss of a child”, “loss of a spouse”, “loss of a dog”, “loss of a friend”, “loss of job”, “grieving marriage” but I couldn’t find something that helps me if I accidentally killed someone. There’s a movie called “Manchester by the Sea” and it’s about what happens to this man who accidentally killed his children. Once I found out what the movie was about, it took me months before I had the courage to watch the movie. I identified with this man in this character, amazingly. What’s even more interesting is Matthew Broderick, the actor, had an accident, causing fatality. He was in the movie. I would suspect that he was able to help that fellow actor who played the dad. We have a lot of things in common. I can’t speak for everyone. We grieve in different ways. Grief is a beast. You can’t put grief in a box. It’s all going to be a little bit different for different people but there are little boxes that you can check. I went through all the emotions of grief. I experienced PTSD, anxiety, sudden panic attacks, hallucinations – you name it, I went through it – and I always felt alone, which is crazy. I became stronger.

 

My parents and I were always close. I had an amazing childhood. My parents were very involved. My dad is also a teacher. So, they were always involved with the Parent-Teacher Council and my dad sponsored our cheer squad at one time. I mean, he and my mom were always involved. We were close family but now is different. As an adult, I was suddenly talking to her more regularly, hugging her more, and saying “I love you” more. That was something good, but I still felt alone because there’s no self-help.

 

I was told by two different therapists, “I don’t know how to treat you. There’s no protocol. I don’t really know which kind of therapy to use with you.” I had to seek out help. It wasn’t just brought to me. Victim services did not come to help me. In fact, I would not even be considered as that. My trooper told me, “Hey, normally when this happens, I’m making an arrest.” That’s what he told me in the car and I just had to look at him. He said, “We don’t really know what to do with you. I mean, when these things happen, we don’t have a– you’re that odd man out, that one-off.” So, when you’re told by therapists that they don’t know how to help you and you don’t know how to help yourself, I tried to do some research but I was coming up empty. I felt so alone. That can’t be very rational because accidents happen every single day. I never really stopped to think about the other driver. I actually kind of touched base on this a minute ago. I had to eat my own words. God is so good. I am sorry. I know I’m not here to preach or anything but he even convicts and teaches us through these moments.

 

For whatever reason, at some point, I had a memory of my mom telling me about someone who we had known had gotten into an accident and her husband was suddenly gone. The wife was now a widow to four children. This was before my accident. I remember us sitting and my mom said something like, “I hope that person wasn’t texting, probably speeding.” I said to her, “I cannot imagine how she must feel to suddenly lose her husband like that. I would pursue that person to the ends of the law.” God gave me that memory. I said that and I had to eat those words. Months later, when I remember this, I was like, “Oh, my gosh! Please forgive me for ever judging that person.” I mean, maybe they were texting, maybe they were being negligent. I didn’t know the facts of that case but I was saying, “Oh, I’m angry for that family. I would pursue them to the ends of the law.” Then, here I am, on the flip side, saying, “God, please show mercy and grace.” I’m grateful for that lesson. I’m grateful for that memory.

 

When I received the hate mail, I received not just threats but also anger, frustration, and judgment. People sought me out. I had to turn off my Facebook. I did not retaliate. In fact, I understood their hurt and anger. What I hope was that our group does not only offers “Hey, fellow CADI, you’re not alone, you are not a monster, you are grieving, you’re not crazy. Here are suicide hotlines. Here are therapies that we found have helped other people. We want to become like a resource.”

 

Another CADI, my sweet friend, that I met through this tragedy – I haven’t actually met or talked to her – she and I were interviewed and we kind of came together in this amazing way. She created a website that was the only resource I have ever found to be relatable. I remembered searching for months and months. I would even search about what was going to happen to me. I  would search for things like “accident”, “fatality, and “my fault.” I would just try to find something but I would find either nothing or things like a man in Austin who was indicted. He was eating a shrimp taco. As the shrimp fell out of his lap while he was driving – he was in Austin – he glanced down to pick up that shrimp out of his lap. Lots of people bike in Austin. So, he hit a cyclist, the cyclist passed away, and he was indicted. I think that’s a whole other conversation. There’s also the aspect of educating the public about what is distracted driving. I think it’s phenomenal that we’re trying to improve upon texting and driving. This could happen to anyone. When I gave my interview for the New Yorker, the journalist said, “Your story scares the hell out of me because you are just an everyday Joe. I was guilty of driving while tired. I remember when I was younger, I would check my makeup while still driving.”

 

Scott

We feel like we can do that but not get distracted. But we think that other people shouldn’t do that.

 

Jennifer 

Right. Like, “I’m okay because I’ve got control” or “Well, I have this open road. I’m not doing anything crazy.” When I was under investigation, I was asked, “Did you have an argument with your husband that day or the day before? How much sleep did you get? What was happening with the kids?” I mean, the reason why this trooper had these questions for me is that this is their protocol. These are considered distractions. How loud was your radio going? Were you dancing to the songs? I am so grateful that, at that moment, I could honestly say, ‘No.’ I stopped at that stop sign and asked Katie, ‘Did you score? Did you serve over the net?’ I didn’t even have the radio on because we were talking. Haven was just chilling in her car seat.” However, I kept thinking that I’m guilty of all those things. When you’re driving, how many times were you like, “Oh, you’re in a new place. Oh, that was a stop sign. Oh, that light turned red. Oh, you need to get into this lane. When you come back this lane, were you, like, ‘Whoa, thank goodness. I didn’t see that man in my blind spot.’” We all have these moments that we can take into our thoughts.

 

Apparently – and I don’t know if this is true – he had already been at the VFW, left, and was coming back. He had just bought that motorcycle that day. I mean, there are just some parts where I hope that there will be a ripple of compassion within your audience as they start to notice that these accidents really do happen every day. If you have ever seen news floating around Facebook about “Oh, there’s been a fatality at some highway,” you’ll immediately think about that family who just lost a loved one. There is also a whole other aspect – not just that family. A ripple of people’s lives just changed – my children’s lives, his children’s lives, all these people who are innocent in this. It broke my heart that I broke my children’s hearts. It broke my heart that I broke my husband’s heart. It broke my heart that I broke my mother’s heart.

 

Scott 

Seeing things from a different perspective makes me think of people that are friends or family members of someone who has gone through what you’ve gone through. What is the right thing to say to them? I know some people who just don’t say anything or interact with you anymore. For people who really want to help, what can they do?

 

Jennifer 

Well, please don’t say, “I ran over a dog. Oh my gosh, I felt horrible.”

 

Scott 

Oh, so they’re trying to identify with you by saying that they hit an animal?

 

Jennifer 

Yeah. I know their heart was in the right place but I just thought, “Oh my gosh, I would have to look at three children who lost their daddy in an accident.” I know how close my children are to their daddy and how much I value family or veterans. I put high esteem in people who’ve served our country so that was kind of a sting. Also, saying, “Jennifer, this wasn’t your fault. This was just an accident.” is not always received well, either, because it doesn’t matter if it was an accident. Somehow, it’s my fault. I was involved. I think what can help is just saying, “This is hard but I’m going to walk with you through it. I don’t know how you feel but I’m here for you. It’s okay to be broken. If you are angry at God right now, if you are angry at yourself or whatever, I’m just here if you need to scream, if you need to cry, if you need a little help because little things like laundry or brushing your teeth become overwhelming. It’s so awful to say that but that’s where I was. I mean, getting a happy face on took so much energy out of me. When I got back home, I immediately got into pajamas and got in my bed. My poor family didn’t have me for a good 4-6 months. I had to decide if I wanted to live. I mean, I would kind of be there but I had to decide to fight for my health, my mental health by going to the doctor, getting medicine, and finding a nighttime routine that would help me get some kind of sleep. I remembered getting to fall asleep by midnight and waking up around 5.00 AM and being like, “Okay, that’s a start.”

 

Most of the time now, I still have pretty good days, but there are some nights when nothing’s going to help. The melatonin is not going to help. The Tylenol PM is not going to help. Nothing’s going to help. Reading my Bible is not going to help. I’m just not going to sleep at night for whatever reason. I’ve learned that this is a lifelong thing. I’ve met people who had their accident 40 years ago like Maryann. She is the founder of accidentalimpacts.org and she was the only resource available anywhere in the world. She termed the term “CADI” which is Causing Accidental Death and Injury. It’s what she preferred to call herself. She’s still practicing counseling. Her story is available and she’s very open. She’s a fighter. She’s an advocate for us to be recognized by the counseling community. I feel that she’s in her 70s. It’s not that I ever wanted this torch. I mean, I would have much rather fought for Chiari malformation research. I would have, rather, advocated for special education or even working with at-risk youth like what we’ve done before. Never in a million years would I have wanted this cause.

 

Scott 

Sometimes you don’t get to choose your cause because it chooses you.

 

Jennifer 

Right. So I was crying on my therapist’s couch. My doctor was amazing – bless his heart – and I’m forever grateful to him. He took me on because he had special knowledge. He actually is a chaplain and he works a lot with police officers and PTSD. So, for anyone who is a CADI, we highly recommend a therapist that specializes in PTSD because they can relate closely to that battle – survivor’s guilt and things like that, which all of us have experienced. It’s cross-cultural. We’ve been contacted from several countries by both the wives and mothers of other people of all age groups and ethnicities. They are reporting back the same things that we all have. When I found the first couple of them, I started a blog. At first, I wanted to keep it private because I was so afraid of the backlash and the people who say, “You should be in jail. You should rot in hell.” But then I thought, if I keep this all to myself, we’re never going to make a change. So, I had to be willing to take that on. So, I finally did that. When other CADIs find me, we feel like we can finish each other’s sentences, we can finish each other’s thoughts, and we were like, “Oh my gosh, you were in my head.” I’m like, “Okay, it’s good if you think that. Maybe I’m not crazy.” You want the validation that you’re not crazy although you feel crazy. Anytime I find someone who can relate to that, it helps me to feel like, “Okay, this is normal.” If you and I feel this way then we can at least go, “Okay, we’re not crazy. How do we keep moving forward? Well, this is what works for me. I used art therapy. I did this thing called neurofeedback and it was amazing. I wish I could do more of it.” There is somebody else who said that he did a memorial kind of thing for the victim and that gave me an idea of something that I wanted to do for David. So, we can kind of keep the people that we’ve hurt in a very special place in our hearts. I mean, that is something that’s consistent. Even if we knew them or not, we hold them in spite of this delicate relationship place that we can’t even describe. It’s weird and we don’t know a name for it.

 

Scott 

Maybe you need to create a name for it. Well, if people want to contact you, ask you questions, or find resources on how to get through something like this, how can they do that?

 

Jennifer 

Okay. The first website I’ll give you is accidentalimpacts.org. That is Maryann’s. She is a social psychologist and educator. So you can find it at accidentalimpacts.org.

 

Scott 

You can send that information to me and I’ll put it in the show notes for this episode.

 

Jennifer 

Sure, absolutely. She’s kind of the trailblazer. She is a CADI herself. Her accident was over 40 years ago. She has blog posts about what to do and it really helped me. She helped me to feel like I wasn’t alone. She has, like, a forum-type thing where people can post. That’s how I found out about the New Yorker article and connected with another CADI. Then, we also have accidentalcasualties.com. That was created by my friend and fellow CADI. We don’t really know where it’s going to go but it’s a resource for people to not feel alone. There is a forum. There’s information on how to contact us through there. We tried to just be a place for people to find, so anyone is welcome. Resources on suicide, PTSD, and any treatment that is recommended to someone – we try to get information on the blog about that treatment so that you could get that information. You can also email me if you want to share your story. I have several people who don’t want to be involved in any kind of support group, but who have sent me their stories so that someone can hear it. Sometimes, just releasing that helps. I certainly found it therapeutic to finally openly and publicly share my story. So, I appreciate you with this as well. My email is beautifullybrokenblog16@gmail.com. You’re certainly welcome to email me. I can try to pray for you or listen to whatever. I’m certainly not a doctor or counselor, but just someone who is a friendly ear.

 

Scott  

You’re familiar with the resources that are available. Maybe, you can direct people to write whatever is appropriate.

 

Jennifer 

Right. If they have every source that we don’t know about, I’d love to know. I’m still a person that is deeply affected and I now live with anxiety. So, I love to learn about other resources.

 

Scott 

Jen, I’m sorry that your family and that David’s has gone through this. I’m certainly grateful for you coming here and sharing your story. I’m sure it’s going to help a lot of people.

 

Jennifer  

Well, thank you. I appreciate you, Scott. Thanks for reaching out!

 

(Present time)

Scott

Jen, welcome back.

 

Jennifer

Hey!

 

Scott

I should have started recording, like, 10 minutes ago because we haven’t spoken since we recorded that podcast. We still connect a lot still on Facebook and online, but we had a lot of catching up to do.

 

Jennifer

Oh, I know.

 

Scott

You did an amazing job telling that story. I mean, such a difficult thing for anyone to go through. When we recorded our conversation back then, it was only about two years after the accident. Were you a little nervous about being able to get through telling all those details?

 

Jennifer

So nervous, and I didn’t know anything about this. You were only really the second person I’d ever talked to about it besides a family member. Even family members didn’t get all the way in. I was just getting comfortable with sharing the hardest, most raw parts of struggling with this guilt and what happened. But it was also, I talked to that one journalist from the New Yorker, Alice Gregory, and there was just this spark of being free. I didn’t know what to expect. Obviously, we didn’t know what was that going to turn into. It was just a way to share my voice and, hopefully, bring light to this really terrible situation from another perspective. I didn’t really even know what that meant at that point.

 

Scott

Yeah. When we first spoke, I mean, you had no idea who I was and I couldn’t show you a bunch of past episodes. Like, this is how I deal with stuff like this. And you took a chance on me and it was the first episode and it was just amazing. I’ll always be grateful for that. Whenever I relistened to this episode, the part that always gets me is when you’re having your yard sale and you happen to meet someone that you realized was a friend of David’s. What contact have you had with anyone since then that was connected with him – like his friends or family or anyone?

 

Jennifer

Nothing really except for, well, this is a whole story. I became a SAFE 2 SAVE ambassador for a smart app that helps people create new habits and safe driving practices. I was an ambassador and I would go to schools – this is pre-pandemic – and I would tell young people, “Hey, this is what the app does. This is why you should not drive distracted.” Then, I would tell a little bit about my story, but they’re high schoolers, so I had to tone it down just a bit. Wherever SAFE 2 SAVE needed me to go, that’s where I would go and talk.

 

Well, the local news got word of it and April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. So a young journalist gets in contact with SAFE 2 SAVE and says, “Would you send someone over to do a little spiel about distracted driving and talk about the app?” The rep for the company said, “Would you go and talk to her?” They’re actually in Waco. And I’m like, “Sure, I’ll talk about it. I’ll do my spiel. I’ll put on makeup and do the same kind of thing.” Well, when talking to the journalist, I tell her my story and why I am a SAFE 2 SAVE ambassador, what is the passion behind it, and I make sure to say, I am not a distracted driver. But I know that if I had been, this would have got a whole lot more complicated. I would not be here actually. I’d probably still be in prison serving a sentence.

 

She did what all ambitious young journalists do. She contacted the family. Right before my makeup and hair are done – which does not happen very often – and she’s got the camera set up, right before she’s about to record, she says, “By the way. I contacted David’s family, and they have an off-record comment that they want you to know they forgive you, but they don’t want to give a comment.” I had a nervous breakdown. I lost it. I mean, dry heaving, blubbering, mess, face splotchy, could barely catch my breath, kind of a panic attack. She had no idea the level of trauma that this really causes in a person. To contact them without my knowledge but then to spring that on me– it’s something that I have literally prayed for every day, for years, to know that they forgive me because I’m not allowed to have contact with them. And I don’t want to. I would never want to force anything and put anyone in an uncomfortable situation. So, to be given that message, she had no idea the level of relief but, also, that was painful. That was painful and that was difficult.

 

Scott

Did you go ahead with the interview then?

 

Jennifer

I had to. I mean, I was like, “I need to get a minute. You’re going to have to give me– I had to go completely redo my makeup, calm myself down, do a little groundwork, and just recompose myself.” Then, I was also probably on guard. I mean, if I look back at that little piece, I was on guard because I was just so taken aback, but I also felt obligated because I wasn’t just doing this for me. I was a representative for SAFE 2 SAVE, but it wasn’t the same and it was not fair how they spun that. That made me very cautious about how you can cut, put an angle and a spin on media and not realize, like, the severity of it.

 

Scott

Your two daughters who were with you in the car that night, how much do they remember of that?

 

Jennifer

Haven, the younger one, does not remember anything. I mean, she for years still said, “Mama, that man doesn’t have a helmet on.” She was very aware – not even realizing why motorcycle sounds or motorcycles driving next to us – if they had a helmet, if they didn’t have a helmet, if they’re speeding, and those things. She’s still probably very aware for years. She’s 11 now. Katie, the older one, remembers pretty much everything and she didn’t get her driver’s license until she was 18. She still struggles to drive on the highway or alone or at night. So this has affected her deeply. I think we talk about it openly. She talks about her anxiety. She gets help with that, so it did affect her.

 

Scott

Tell us about all your kids, your family, and your husband. What’s everybody doing these days?

 

Jennifer

Oh, life has changed so much. Chris is still coaching but in a different way. We’re with a homeschool group now, and he works for Baylor here in Waco, and we’re so excited and what the next chapters could possibly lead into. Patrick is off in Tennessee and discovering all that life can offer.

 

Scott

How old is Patrick?

 

Jennifer

  1. It’s just crazy. How am I old enough to have a 21-year-old?

 

Scott

Every time you say the age of one of your kids, it’s like you’re going through some kind of pain.

 

Jennifer

It hurts.

 

Scott

Time goes on, right?

 

Jennifer

Time goes on. No one talks about the grief of motherhood and the letting go part. We were so close after the accident that it hurt me. They’re flying the nest and that, in itself, is a whole different level. I mean, I know the fragility of life too, how quickly things can change, and how grateful I am, so I’m more aware. Tennessee is not very close, so Logan is a junior in high school starting to look at colleges, busy working a job, and going to school. Haven is into everything – making bracelets. She’s got this little entrepreneurial spirit, making bracelets and all kinds of different things. She’s always getting creative with something. They keep me busy and I love them so much.

 

Things have changed. I mean, at the time of the accident, they were 14, 12, 10, and 4. Then, when you and I talked, they were 16, 14, and now they’re adults.

 

Scott

That’s what happens.

 

Jennifer

That’s what happens.

 

Scott

And you have a podcast of your own, which you didn’t have when we spoke last. But before you tell everybody about that, you appeared on another podcast, and I have no idea why I didn’t already know about this, but this is a pretty big deal. Can you talk about that?

 

Jennifer

Yeah, it’s not just a podcast, but a whole TV production. I was on the Red Table Talk with Jada Pinkett Smith and her daughter, Willow, and Gammy, they flew me to Los Angeles and it was right after the tragedy involving Alec Baldwin and the producer on the set of Rust. It was in response to Maryann Jacobi Gray, who is one of my mentors. She wrote an article and the LA Times picked it up. It was just about unintentional harm, accidental death, and the weight of this very sensitive topic, and the LA Times picked it up.

 

So in March of 2019, my podcast launched and it is a very niche thing, but it started to grow and I got more involved with, at the time, Accidental Impacts founded by Dr. Maryann Gray. That turned into a good friendship. She’s in California. I’m in Texas and her program began to grow and became a nonprofit, an actual foundation. Then, in November of 2021, we were flown to Los Angeles and got to be on the Red Table Talk and tell Jada and the world, really, what it’s like to be involved in an unintentional death and the weight of it, the guilt, the shame, how do we cope, how do we find help, and just bringing an awareness to a particular topic, which I didn’t even know at the time of talking with you, but we call it moral injury. Like, I knew that every aspect of me and my being was just crushed, but I didn’t know what it was called. Well, now there’s a scientific term and it’s typically associated with soldiers – the moral injury. It is a derivative, but not exactly the same as PTSD. It’s an actual injury to the soul.

 

Scott

And she’s your mentor. And that’s the first time you guys got to meet in person?

 

Jennifer

Yes. We had only met through Zoom meetings. They flew us both together and got to meet for the first time out there on the set, and it was just amazing. Well, they wanted us to meet on camera. The whole shebang tears flowing, but we both knew that we might end up ruining our makeup. So Maryann, being the woman that she is, she came and I got this little tap on my trailer, and there she is. She said, “We were not about to ruin our makeup.” She gave me a big hug and it was literally, an answer to prayer, Scott. I had prayed and hoped that, someday, I could meet this pioneer, this fearless woman who was the first, the very first, to step out, take all the hate, all the heat, and talk about this taboo topic.

 

Scott

Because it happened to her…

 

Jennifer

It happened to her. Her accident involved a young boy running into the street. It changed the whole course of her life. She was a social psychologist at UCLA, a head chair, and she experienced the whole identity crisis and the moral injury when that wasn’t a topic, and PTSD before PTSD was even clinically really known about. There’s such a connection when you meet someone who just knows. When you meet someone who’s experienced something, whether it’s loss or a certain type of diagnosis, or even when you meet another marathon runner and ultimate runner like you do, when you meet someone else, it’s an instant connection. You love something that most people don’t, and we both had different experiences with different circumstances, but we just knew. Some things are unspoken. We just knew.

 

Scott

And what about your podcast? Tell us about that.

 

Jennifer

It’s Accidental Hope. I am so grateful for this. It had to take a little bit of a back burner for a little while, but I am back in gear and going to nurture it a little bit. It reaches people all over the world. As far as I know, it’s still the only one in the world that talks about accidental death. So I share stories of hope and healing from a faith perspective on both sides. So I have people come on the show who have caused an accident like myself, and share their experience, whatever they feel comfortable sharing, and we try to focus on the hope of getting through it, overcoming it.

 

Then, I also occasionally have people who have lost a loved one and had to forgive someone like me. I want to honor their grief, their struggle and overcoming, and their hope because I also believe that by hearing this story, someone was able to forgive and able to go on and hope, again, despite having this loss, there also is healing for both parties, and that’s kind of the focus. Occasionally, I have therapists come on and give us any kind of new therapy like EMDR, the practice of grounding, tapping, journaling, and things that are tools that people can use when they’re going through this hard time.

 

Scott

The other thing you’ve done since we spoke is you’ve written a book.

 

Jennifer

Yes.

 

Scott

You’ve been busy.

 

Jennifer

And I finished it. I did it. I finished.

 

Scott

Wow. Congratulations on that. In your book, you basically tell your story.

 

Jennifer

Yeah. It’s called Left Turn: Life Unimagined. And it is about the 72 days– it is about the couple of days before the accident to the grand jury decision. So much had happened in that such a short amount of time. It was a place where I could put all the details that I had continued to play within my mind and I wasn’t able to let go of them. There’s something with trauma where you don’t want to let go of certain memories too, because I didn’t want to dishonor the event or dishonor this thing that happened with David.

 

Scott

If you forget some details, it feels like you’re saying that weren’t important enough to remember.

 

Jennifer

Or even it was starting to get blurry and then I would get confused and then I would get frustrated with myself. Or even who gives me the right to let go? I was still dealing with some of that – who gives me the right to move on? It’s part of self-punishment, in some ways too – reliving that. So I put it in a place. At the end of every chapter, I try to give where I was at the time. So I waited for five years after the accident to publish. I wanted to give honor to this event for the family as well, give space. So I would kind of give some insight into what I’ve learned from that situation or how God used it in my mind. And then, of course, at the end of the story, I wasn’t confident then to say, “Do I forgive myself?” I can say confidently, “I forgive the fact that I am human and that I have limitations and I fall short.” I don’t excuse it. I still take complete accountability for everything that I can. I should have treated it like a busy cross-section. It was still my responsibility. I’m still responsible. But I’ve come to a place where I forgive myself, and it is totally okay for me to say I’m having a good day, and I’m happy, and I’m joyful. I have hard days, but it’s okay. When I talked with you, I didn’t think that I was really comfortable saying, “I’m happy.”

 

Scott

You were still in the process.

 

Jennifer

Yeah. Very much so.

 

Scott

You’ve really done your best to turn this tragedy into something for good with all of your work, and we’ll have links to your podcast, your book, and the Red Table Talk interview. We’ll have all of that in the show notes for this episode. So good to talk to you again.

 

Jennifer

You too, please keep in touch. And I’m so proud of you. I mean, you’re an ordinary guy who just did follow your heart, and look at how much it’s brought people together from all over the world in just a neat way. You’re exposing so many situations that people get curious about.

 

Scott

Yeah, and maybe we’ll see each other at a conference one of these days.

 

Jennifer

One of these days, we’ll have to. Yes, let’s make that happen.

 

Scott

In the episode notes, you can see a recent picture of Jen and her family, and there’s also a full transcript – that’s all at WhatWasThatLike.com/156.

 

And if there’s something you were hoping I would ask her, but I didn’t – Jen is also in our private Facebook group. Actually a lot of our past guests are in there. Come on in and join our conversations! WhatWasThatLike.com/facebook

 

The Flashback episodes are turning out to be pretty popular so we’ll continue doing this. I’ll do one of these each month, and it will always be on a Friday in between the regular new episodes, so you’ll still be hearing a brand new story every other Friday, like I’ve been doing since day 1.

 

I have to tell you something though, if I can kind of pull back the curtain a little bit. When I hear these early episodes, it reminds me of how I’ve changed the way to create the podcast. I mean, I’ll hear little things that I would have edited out if it were a new episode today. And the other thing is, back in the early days, I just talked too much. Thankfully, before too long, I figured it out that what you signed up for is not to hear me talk, it’s to hear the guest tell their story. My job is to mostly stay out of the way of that. But sometimes I’ll hear these early episodes and I just want to say, hey Scott, how about you stop talking and just listen? I’ve definitely improved though.

 

Graphics for this episode were created by Bob Bretz. Full episode transcription was created by James Lai.

 

And now it’s Listener Story time! The Listener Story comes at the end of each episode, and it’s a 5-10 minute story that was sent in by a listener, just like you. If you have a story, we all want to hear it! Just record it on your phone and email it to me – Scott@WhatWasThatLike.com.

 

This week’s Listener Story illustrates why you shouldn’t take shelter under a tree during a thunderstorm.

 

Stay safe, and I’ll see you in one week with a brand new story.

 

(Listener story)

 

Hey Scott, I just wanted to start off by saying how much I enjoy your podcast. It is wonderful. I listen to it doing everything I do throughout my day. I’m a homesteader, so I’m often listening to your podcast in my garden, attending to my chickens, harvesting and canning, or even my day-to-day tasks like cleaning. So I just want to say thanks. It’s a really great podcast.

 

My story begins when I was 5 years old. I went camping with my parents on Crown land on an island. Crown land camping was something my parents often did with me and they did it a lot when they didn’t have kids. This particular time, I was five years old and we were camping with myself, my mom, my dad, my aunt, my uncle, and my uncle’s son. Some of this story is the recount of my family members. I can remember being very excited to go camping with my parents, especially because it was just me. My younger sister, who would have been 2.5 or 3, wasn’t going to be coming. So I was excited to have my parents all to myself and enjoy the weekend fishing and swimming.

 

I can remember boating out to the island where we were going to camp. It was, at the time, a big island to me, obviously, being only five years old. I can remember exploring the island and seeing where we were going to pop the tents up and where we would swim. I do have some memories of foraging for wild blueberries. We live in Ontario, Canada, so wild blueberries are very popular here and they are delicious. As the weekend went on, my parents decided to take me out fishing after we had dinner.

 

My uncle and his son went out fishing in their own boat, and my aunt stayed back on the island. As we were leaving in the boat, I can remember my aunt yelling to us that she was listening to the radio and they were calling for thunderstorms. I don’t really think my parents thought too much of it. I can remember looking at the sky and seeing the blue sky and some clouds. I don’t remember, at that point, being worried about a storm. Not that I was worried to begin with, but I don’t remember the thought of a storm or rain happening because the sky was so blue.

 

As we were done fishing and we started to head back towards the island, the sky began to be very dark. I can remember hearing rumblings off in the distance and asking my parents what that was, and they told me that it must just be trucks or something far away. So, again, I wasn’t really concerned. I didn’t think I needed to be. My parents weren’t concerned and just carried on with what we were doing.

 

As we got closer back to the island and got back on the island, there was a black sky basically on half of the island and blue sky on the other half of the island, and the thunder and lightning began. My dad had this tarp set up so we could sit under it to shade us from any rain or sun. That was something he often did when we went camping. We would have this shelter to sit under. I can remember huddling into my dad’s lap as he was crouched down. My mom was sitting close by and my aunt was sitting the furthest away from me, but still close enough. She was sitting on a chair.

 

My uncle and cousin were still not back yet and we’re still out fishing. I can remember the thunder becoming very loud and, all of the sudden, there was a huge flash and the lightning had hit the tree that we basically were all sitting under. There was a garbage bag on that tree, that had our garbage hanging on it to prevent any wildlife on the island from getting into it, and it had exploded and obliterated everywhere.

 

I can remember my aunt screaming. Her hands and feet were on fire. She was knocked unconscious and flew off of her chair from the electricity. After that, I don’t really have any recollection of what happened. My parents said there was smoke from the tree getting hit by lightning. Later on that night, I can remember waking up to my leg and arm hurting. There was a hole in the tent because bark from the tree had punctured the tent. I remember waking up and complaining about the pain I was in, and my dad had a similar pain on the same side of his body that I had the pain on mine, so we just assumed it was the after-effects of the electricity going through our bodies.

 

I can remember my uncle and his son coming back after the storm had hit, and they had no idea it had even stormed. They heard thunder in the distance but didn’t realize it was over the lake at that point because the lake we were on was a very big lake.

 

Still, to this day, I am terrified of storms and so is my aunt. She ended up being okay. We were all okay, luckily – well, physically okay. I mean, mentally and psychologically, not so much. My entire life, I’ve struggled with storms. As I said, I am terrified of them. The older I got, the worse it got and still is the older I’m getting, and I’m 32. My parents brought me to the doctor after it happened just to have me checked out and make sure I was okay. The doctor told them that I should grow out of any fears I might have surrounding storms and forget about it, but I’ve not forgotten. It is something that still haunts me and it’s something that, with every storm, the memories come back and I’m afraid. So I’m often inside my house, you will not see me camping or anywhere that I don’t feel safe if a storm is to approach.

 

We are lucky that our farmhouse where we live right now is kind of in a little valley. So, often, any storms that happen will happen to the north of us or the south of us, but usually skips our house.

 

People are often shocked when I say that, when I was a little girl, I was hit by lightning. Now, I mean, I wasn’t directly hit by lightning, but we were on the roots of the tree where lightning hit the tree and we felt it.