As Christopher Williams was being extricated from his overturned car onto a backboard to be taken to the hospital, he looked over at his vehicle and the car that had just crashed into him, killing his pregnant wife and two of his children.
It was at that moment Williams said he had a decision to make. That decision, he said, was to "unconditionally forgive" the person who had just caused the accident. By forgiving, Williams said the healing process could continue without being "hampered by another step."
Monday, Williams showed the great composure some had already seen since Friday night's accident as he addressed the media for the first time.
Friday's accident on 2000 East near 2700 South claimed the lives of his 41-year-old wife, Michelle, who was about six months pregnant; 11-year-old son, Ben; and 9-year-old daughter, Anna. His 6-year-old son, Sam, was taken to Primary Children's Medical Center where he was listed in stable condition Monday.
Police believe the 17-year-old driver accused of smashing into the Williams family had been drinking.
Christopher Williams has shown remarkable strength, which he claims comes partly from his LDS faith and partly from his wife. It was through his wife that he learned the power of forgiveness, he said.
"This is what she would want to do," he said of forgiving the allegedly drunken teenage driver.
After 18 1/2 years of marriage, Williams called the accident and his reaction to it an "exam" from his wife "to make sure I was listening." He called his wife a humble and forgiving person whose example he tried to emulate.
As soon as Williams decided he would unconditionally forgive the other driver, he said it was at that moment he heard Sam calling to him from the back of the wrecked car.
But he admits the events of the past four days have been a bitter cup.
"I know it will all be all right one day," he said. "That bitter cup doesn't have to be drunk all at once. But we know one day it will be empty."
Williams said his memory of what happened that night is still a little "foggy," and he did not want to discuss details of the accident until he had a chance to talk with Salt Lake City police.
He said Sam is in stable condition with some broken bones and is being medicated, but Williams did not go into many other details about his son's condition. He added that Sam was not aware yet that his mother and two of his siblings were dead.
Charges against the teen could come as early as Wednesday. Salt Lake District Attorney Lohra Miller said because of the complex nature of the investigation, Wednesday would be the earliest her office could screen the case.
One of the biggest questions will be whether the teen is charged in juvenile court or as an adult. Miller said several factors need to be looked at, including the nature and severity of the case and the history of the defendant. Even how close the teen is to turning 18 will be considered, she said.
As far as the severity of the case, Miller said Friday's accident "ranks very high in my book."
Miller called the accident a "profound tragedy" for the teen's family and Williams' family. She said she has been touched by the father's kindness toward the defendant. However, that will not influence the way she screens charges.
"It's one thing to forgive someone," she said. "It's important we hold people accountable. The victim's role is to determine how they react to forgiving. My role is to determine how to keep the community safe."
Williams, despite his unconditional forgiveness, seemed to agree Monday with Miller.
"Forgiveness is a source of power. But it does not relieve us of consequences," he said.
The teen driver has been in juvenile detention since the accident. A detention hearing was held Monday in Juvenile Court, but the outcome was not known Monday evening because of laws protecting juveniles.
At Highland Park Elementary School where Ben was a sixth-grader and Anna was in fourth grade, a meeting was held between district officials, teachers and administrators before school started Monday to determine how to deal with the tragedy and simply to see how the teachers themselves were doing, Salt Lake School District spokesman Jason Olsen said.
A table was set up in the front of the school with flowers and pictures of the two classmates. Counselors were at the school all day Monday to help both teachers and students deal with the tragedy.
"It's a tragedy all the way around. It's a no-win situation," said the children's grandmother, Nadine Williams. "We're devastated. We feel great sadness for the young boy's family and the young boy."1 comment on this story
"It's very, very painful," added the children's grandfather, Paul Williams.
To help the healing process, Chris Williams has asked members of the community to conduct their own act of kindness or forgiveness by Valentine's Day, write about it and send it to his two surviving sons.
Those letters can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Williams' 14-year-old son, Michael, was not with the family at the time of the accident.Donations to help the Williams family can also be made at all Zions Bank locations.