Would you be able to forgive after crash?

Published 10:25 am Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Every once in a while, I come across a story that restores my faith in humanity.

As a journalist, these types of stories can tug me at the heart strings, especially if I’m the one writing the article.

This time I wasn’t the writer — I was simply a reader — but the article impacted me nonetheless. The article was in my hometown newspaper, The Roanoke Times, and it was about a family who offered forgiveness to a man who caused a crash that killed two of their loved ones, who were on a motorcycle.

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It was almost a freak accident of sorts.

The article stated the driver at fault, Conel Stafford Martin Jr., a pastor, had been at a nearby school for a football game with his 15-year-old son when they left the game and headed up the street in their Chevrolet Colorado. Just ahead of them, an ambulance had caught fire, so traffic was detoured off the road, sent behind a CVS pharmacy and rerouted onto a different highway.

When Martin pulled out onto that highway, he didn’t realize he had turned north in the south lane of the road, into the path of Bobby and Pam Clark, who were riding the opposite direction on their 2004 Harley-Davidson Sportster.

The article stated Martin only traveled 248 feet until he saw the motorcycle and tried to get over.

Bobby Clark also saw the Chevy ahead and cut hard to the right to avoid the truck, but both he and his wife were thrown to the asphalt and ultimately slid under Martin’s truck where they died almost immediately, according to the article.

The motorcycle was driving at about 45 mph, and the truck was traveling about 20 mph. Authorities  determined Martin only had roughly 2 1/2 seconds between his wrong turn and the crash, the article stated.

All around them, the family of the couple who died heard people throwing accusations that Martin should have been charged with manslaughter or something similar, but the family knew it was an accident and that Martin simply made a mistake.

The brother of the man who died, J.T. Clark, attended Martin’s hearing in Henry Count General District Court in Virginia and offered to pay the driver’s fine. He said his family understood what had happened and that covering Martin’s fine was the only way they could fully demonstrate that, the article said.

“I needed to be there to represent my brother and my family,” Clark said in The Roanoke Times. “Bobby and Pam lived a life of forgiveness, and they wouldn’t want us to behave any differently.”

The judge was taken back by Clark’s request but ultimately was swayed by it. He lowered the charge against Martin from reckless driving to improper control and fined him $5.

After the trial, Clark and Martin went together to the clerk’s office where Clark paid the fine, court costs and a charge for paying with a debit card — which amounted to $68.

Martin said in the article that he was overwhelmed with Clark’s appearance at the trial and began to break down and cry when he heard what he intended to do.

“It’s just a tremendous love they’ve shown me,” he said in The Roanoke Times. “I’m so sorry for the accident and the losses.”

He said he lives daily with what happened and recognizes how difficult it is both for his family and the Clarks. In the end, he has relied on his faith to help him through.

How would I act if I were in this situation? Would I be like the Clarks or the others in the community who called for a stricter penalty. What if I were Martin? The article really does make you think.

The fact of the matter is that something like this can happen to any of us at any time, but it’s how we choose to respond to it that makes all the difference.


Sarah Stultz is the Tribune’s managing editor. She can be reached at 379-3433 or sarah.stultz@albertleatribune.com.