A tragic story of two innocent girls dead and one man facing more than 20 years in prison was told to the Marines of 2nd Maintenance Battalion Nov. 9.
Renee Napier, whose daughter was killed in May 2002, spoke to the Marines of 2nd Maint. Bn. at a safety brief before the Veterans Day holiday weekend about the reality and consequences of drunk driving. Napier lost a daughter when Eric Smallridge, who was driving while intoxicated, slammed his vehicle into the car occupied by Napier’s daughter and friend.
In Oct. 2003 Smallridge was found guilty on two counts of DUI manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Smallridge was one of approximately 15,000 individuals involved in a fatal accident concerning alcohol in 2002.
Napier began advocating for DUI prevention after the accident took her daughter’s life. She started speaking to service members because five Marines were at the scene of the accident and were present at the funeral.
“I didn’t see them that day but someone mentioned they were there,” said Napier. “After everyone left I saw the five Marine flags they left on her grave and I knew I had to share her story as a way to thank them.”
The visit by Napier brought reality of the consequences for the Marines through her pain, said Sgt. Maj. Scott M. Schmitt, sergeant major of 2nd Maint. Bn.
“The message we are trying to get across is, it’s up to the Marines to be responsible and make the right choice,” said Schmitt.
The national fatality rate from drunk drivers has decreased more than 45 percent since 1991; 63 percent of those deaths were individuals under 21 years old.
“Just because you have the freedom to drink, doesn’t give you the right to get behind the wheel,” said Lt. Col. Craig C. Clemans, battalion commander for 2nd Maint. Bn. “Not drinking and driving is one principle with 1,000 applications. You can think you’re alright to drive or say ‘I drive well while I’m drunk,’ but if you get behind the wheel after drinking the consequences can be severe.”
Marines have the ability to do their part by making the right decision, and with advocates like Napier stepping up against drunk driving, related accidents and arrests are rapidly declining.