Odd couple: Mother speaks to students with man who killed daughter in DUI crash

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Eric Smallridge, left, in his prison jumpsuit, waits offstage before a presentation at Barron Collier High School on the perils of drunken driving on April 18, 2012. In 2002, Smallridge killed two girls, Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson when he drove home drunk after a night out with friends. Together, Smallridge and Renee Napier, Meagan's mother, tour the state giving presentations on the dangers of drinking and driving.

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff Eric Smallridge, left, in his prison jumpsuit, waits offstage before a presentation at Barron Collier High School on the perils of drunken driving on April 18, 2012. In 2002, Smallridge killed two girls, Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson when he drove home drunk after a night out with friends. Together, Smallridge and Renee Napier, Meagan's mother, tour the state giving presentations on the dangers of drinking and driving.

Eric Smallridge was 24 when he lost control of his car on the way back from a beach bar in Pensacola, struck another vehicle and killed 20-year-olds Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson instantly.

Convicted of DUI manslaughter, he's spent the most of the past decade behind prison bars where he's known as inmate P22679.

"I never thought I'd be wearing this striped suit," Smallridge said. "I was 10 feet tall and bulletproof."

Barron Collier High School juniors and seniors listened Wednesday morning as Smallridge, in a gray and white jumpsuit, shared the tragic story. A few steps away stood Meagan Napier's mom, Renee.

The two have teamed up in a unlikely partnership to share the potentially fatal dangers of drinking and driving.

Both ask students to promise to never drive under the influence, to never let a friend drive under the influence, and to never be a passenger in the vehicle of a driver under the influence. The pair will make seven more presentations at high schools in Collier County this week in advance of prom and graduation parties.

"Make it a point in your life to not be this guy," Smallridge said pointing to himself. "Don't reduce your life to shackles and chains."

Smallridge is set to be released from prison in November. He was expected to be released in 2022 until Renee Napier stepped in to help cut his prison sentence in half. She wanted him to serve long enough so that he wouldn't be a repeat offender.

"But I didn't want him serving too long so that he would leave with a criminal mind," she said.

Nearly a decade after he killed her daughter, Renee Napier considers Smallridge a son. Both know their relationship is confusing and hard for others to understand. They both call themselves Christians.

"I'm not a naive mother who can just forgive and forget," Renee Napier said.

That's why she's asked Smallridge to join her during the presentations. In April 2010, he was granted permission to join her. It's a way for both of them to heal.

Before the accident, Smallridge said he considered a DUI to be "the worst case scenario." He had driven under the influence at least 50 times before the night of May 11, 2002, when his blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.

It took four seconds for Smallridge to lose control of his vehicle and kill Renee Napier's daughter and best friend.

He said he'll never touch a drop of alcohol again. He calls it "liquid courage."

"It makes you feel invincible," the 33-year-old said.

Barron Collier juniors Ivan Traverzo, Karl Ellison and Adam Rathbun said the presentation changed the way they will think about drinking, parties and driving.

"Ultimately, it's up to that person to do something and make the decision not to drive," Rathbun said.

He said his older brother got a DUI a few years ago, and he's seen the toll it has taken on his brother and his family.

Senior Chloe Smith said she and her friends often think they are invincible. After Wednesday's presentation, she doesn't think so anymore.

"It opened my eyes," she said.

Smith said she goes to parties with her friends all the time. Sometimes people drink. They always plan to have a designated driver, she said, but it's rare that the designated driver stays sober.

Smith and two of her friends walked outside of the auditorium after the presentation to see the wrecked car that Meagan Napier and Dickson died in. Broken glass still covers the driver's seat. The passenger air bag is deflated across the dashboard.

The girls said next time they're at a party without a sober drive, they'll call their parents, even if it means being grounded.

Smallridge will be 34 when he's released. He doesn't know if he'll ever forgive himself. He may never drive again. He has given up on his dream of being the chief information officer for a company.

A month before the sentencing, he had graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Management Information Systems.

"I had every opportunity to succeed and I threw it away," he said. "That's one of the hardest parts."

He hopes that by sharing his experience with high school students, he'll prevent them from making the same mistake.

"It never seemed possible that my life could turn out this way. I bet you don't think yours could either," he wrote in a letter to students during his second year in jail. "Think again. I am living proof that it can happen to you."

To learn more about the story of Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson visit www.duipromise.com or follow Renee Napier and The Meagan Napier Foundation at www.facebook.com/duipromise.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 16

wonderful (Inactive) writes:

The more places they hear it from the better than after the fact.

I lost one of my students and be that as it may:
If you are a passenger in a car with some dolber that wants to show inability behing the wheel: It is real easy. Just tell them that you are going to be sick and going to puke! They will pull over and you can get out and call someone! No one wants that in their car!

Leathercraftswoman (Inactive) writes:

Good for both the mother and the man who killed her child. To be able to get beyond the great loss of ones child and then turn it around in order to take something positive away from it and possibly saving many lives in the process is a very selfless thing to do. God Bless both of them.

native_at_heart writes:

very courageous of them both, keep getting the message out. who knows how many lives will be saved by what you both are doing. God Bless.

HAP writes:

Thank you to the this mother for directing her anger into something that will change the outcome for many lives.

chriskh500 writes:

what an awesome story. Every tradegy, has a purpose and a silver lining. These poor young victims may have saved dozens or more

ironman2 writes:

Interesting....However......

bcnaples writes:

@Heather Carney - "They both call themselves Christians."

Really, is that the best you can do?

itownres writes:

Wow what a great will to turn a tragedy into something positive, this man and the mother teaming up to save more lives, what an angel she is to look beyond, wishing them both the greatest luck with everything..

blueblueblue writes:

in response to bcnaples:

@Heather Carney - "They both call themselves Christians."

Really, is that the best you can do?

I knew somewhere down the line of posts that there would be one who just doesn't get it, and has to add their acid to the blog.
What they DID do is pretty awesome, try rereading it and REALLY thinking about it.

beetlejuice writes:

in response to blueblueblue:

I knew somewhere down the line of posts that there would be one who just doesn't get it, and has to add their acid to the blog.
What they DID do is pretty awesome, try rereading it and REALLY thinking about it.

pretty awesome
inmate stands free
on stage
yup
awesome
in pathetic sense
group hug
spare me

Gifted1 writes:

Suppose the Christians think the world is still flat too. Largest killer of humans in the past 2500 years. Religious beliefs and their demented supporters. We might have made it to the top of the food chain over hundreds of millions of years, but we kill our own more than any other species.

ironman2 writes:

interesting

RickScott writes:

I dunno what I think of that-you hear of DUI offenders who kill doing that and I dunno what they're trying to do. Its not gonna prevent others from doing that.

Tkdmom2000 writes:

I hope that she's able get some peace from this, he owes it to her.

blueblueblue writes:

in response to beetlejuice:

pretty awesome
inmate stands free
on stage
yup
awesome
in pathetic sense
group hug
spare me

Another moronic haiku attempt from insectspit.
pathetic.
Spare us.

moonbeams writes:

inspiring

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