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Why They Forgave the Drunk Driver Who Killed Their Daughter

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 13, 2024 3:03 am

Why They Forgave the Drunk Driver Who Killed Their Daughter

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 13, 2024 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Laura Treppendahl’s life was one worth remembering. After she was killed in a drunk driving accident, Laura’s family told the judge that they completely forgave the young man, Greg, who hit her.

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See website for details. And we return to our American stories. Up next, the beautiful legacy of Laura Trependall, a young lady whose life was cut tragically short and the resulting story of grace and forgiveness offered by her family.

Here's Madison. The best way to find out who a person truly is, is to hear it straight from their family. It's here from David and Rob, the father and brother of Laura Trependall. Laura was definitely the first child. She kind of dominated the other children, right Rob? She was a little bossy, you know? She played her role well of being the oldest child and she followed the rules and she definitely made sure that we follow the rules.

Yeah. One summer, Laura went up to visit with her grandmother, my mother, Jean mama. And after several days together, my mother got frustrated with Laura and she sat her down to teach her a lesson. And she says, Laura, you have a very bad habit for a child. And that is you correct people. And particularly what's bothersome is that you correct adults. You should never correct adults.

And Laura looked at her serious as she could be. And she says, teen mama, it's adults, not adults. My mother just fell out laughing. She just left her alone after that. Classic oldest child.

Yeah. Catherine was born 17 months later. And then three years later, you came three years later, Sophie came and Laura was just the coolest, most delightful, interesting, funny child. She had this ability to just be completely present with people so that when she was talking to you, nobody else mattered. She made you feel important. It kind of created a problem with guys because they would all think she was in love with them. She would do this thing where she would hold your hand with both of hers. It was just all in, deeply into your eyes.

It's like, how do you resist that? She actually was just a really good friend. Laura was the first of her siblings to move out for college. One night she was hanging out with friends in her new town of Oxford, Mississippi. That same night, another student was with friends. They were drinking at a bar. It was a Thursday night, February the sixth. She was hanging out with friends, having some community. It was very close to the bar.

It was like a few hundred yards. And then she headed home sometime around 11. You know, they closed the bar. They were in there just playing these kids as much alcohol as they could. And they said, okay, everybody out.

They send everybody out. Greg Gibbs was underage. Most of the guys that were Greg and eight friends, here they are at a bar. They're 19 years old.

19, 20 years old. They're underage. And Greg says, he says, hey, I'm too drunk to drive. Can anybody else drive? And they all said, we're too drunk to drive.

Nobody volunteered to be the designated driver. And so, so Greg says, okay, it's not very far. Let's go. We get a call at 1130 or so at night from Dallas, who was Laura's boyfriend. That was almost her fiance. He was a paramedic. And so Dallas says, Laura has been in a terrible wreck and she's been taken to the Baptist hospital.

And I'll tell you whatever I know when I find it out. And so, so we go through an hour and a half of this incredible agony. And then we get the next phone call and it's Dallas.

And then he hands it to the doctor and the doctor says, she's gone. Within 30 minutes after that phone call, my first cousin, Wellen and his wife and the Episcopal minister were knocking on our door. It just, you know, they just showed up.

There's something to be said for just showing up. Although Laura attended college in Mississippi, her funeral was held in her home state of Louisiana. Oxford is what from Baton Ridge, five hours or so.

Five hours on the money. We had like 150 kids come from Oxford for a funeral. I don't remember if it was 14 or 15 different girls that came up to me and kind of put their arms around me and said, Laura was my best friend. She had 15 girls that considered Laura to be their best friend.

How do you do that? I tell you what, that funeral was something else. It was a first Presbyterian church and this church will seat about 1200 people. Over 2000 people came to that funeral. Three people spoke and Phyllis was one and Phyllis was one of her teachers in Baton Ridge. So during that service, when we started it, it was really overcast and it was really dreary. And right when Phyllis started her sermon about talking about Laura, the sun came through the windows and it just lit up the whole thing. It was sort of striking how that happened.

And everybody showed up. And the letters that we got for days and months and years after she died of people who were affected by her, they're still coming in. It's a very powerful thing. One of the letters came from James, the paramedic on duty the night of Laura's wreck. Years later he felt the urge to contact David to tell him about the last moments he was able to spend with Laura and the regrets he had. Here's James to read the letter. Hello David. This is hard for me. My name is James Pritchard.

I'm a retired captain at the Oxford Fire Department. On February 7th, 2003, I had the privilege to sit in the car with Laura and say a prayer and make a promise to her that everything was going to be okay. I will never forgive myself for telling her that lie. And I will also never forget the look of comfort she had on her beautiful face as I prayed and told her that we were going to be finished in just one minute.

I know just from the moment she and I shared, she is with our Lord and she is much happier and healthier than anybody on this earth. I'm so sorry if I'm bringing up hurtful thoughts and memories. I just can't go any longer without trying to let you know that I truly try my best to save your beautiful little girl. Since that night, I've either thought about or seen Laura every time I laid my head down, but I thought it would either upset you or seem selfish to contact you. The past few years, my career has caught up with me, both mentally and physically, and I just wanted to ask you for your forgiveness for not keeping my promise to Laura. I'm in no way asking for pity. I just need to find peace somehow through this tragedy.

After that night, I would pray with the people that I was trying to help, but I would never again promise anyone that I was going to make things okay or that they would be okay. I'm so sorry I couldn't do more, and I pray that you and your family have found peace and I hope to find your forgiveness, and I thank you for your time. Today, James has come to terms with some of the regrets of his career, and the Trepan dolls have reassured him that he didn't lie and that Laura really is okay.

And the two words you never want to hear as a parent, she's gone. And my goodness, the letter we just heard. These are the stories we love to bring you, and you're just at the beginning.

The remarkable and regrettably short life, the beautiful life of Laura Trepan doll and her families continues here on Our American Stories. The 2024 presidential campaign features two candidates who are very well known to Americans, and yet there's complexity at every turn. Criminal trial is for one of those candidates, young voters who are angry. The campaign moment podcast from the Washington Post gives you what matters. I'm Aaron Blake and I'm covering my 10th election cycle. My colleagues and I have insights that you won't find anywhere else, so follow the campaign moment right now. This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. We all carry around different stressors in our lives, big ones and small ones.

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BetterHelpHELP.com slash OAS. And we're back with our American stories and the story of Laura Trependal. You're about to hear from another of the many people who were impacted by her life.

Les Newsome was the minister of RUF, a university fellowship group at Laura's college here in our small town of Oxford, Mississippi, about an hour south of Memphis. Laura tended to create the very community that she was seeking, but she kind of found a home in her friendships in RUF. The thing about Laura that was the most compelling to me was Laura was not unaware of the realities of life. In the days surrounding her death, I do think that there was a tendency from the community around us to turn her into sort of Saint Laura Trependal, which is perfectly natural because she was so delightful. But Laura, I always thought would be so uncomfortable with it because she knew her own struggles. She knew that she was a flawed person, struggles that she was willing to admit.

And I always wanted that to at least be always said that what brought the richness of her character was not a natural born sunny disposition. That's what made her so delightful to be around. So yeah, we instantly connected and she was involved in lots of our small groups and a lot of just great connections. As a matter of fact, we were having RUF in the springtime on Thursday nights in 2003. On the evening of her passing, she had left RUF to attend a group of girls that were having discussion time. They would after RUF go to someone's house, they would play a board game together and just talk and share a lot of rich fellowship together. That was vital for Laura and central to who she was and the fact that it was what she was involved in in the night of her death always meant a lot to me and thinking about it.

I had actually gone to my own small group myself. Right around 1130 or midnight we began to hear sirens from the house that I was at. She was on her way home from that gathering with those girls to her home to work on the paper. She actually told him I've got to leave early because I've got to go work on the paper. I left my gathering probably around midnight, went home and at that moment got a call from her boyfriend Dallas saying, Laura's in the hospital. She's been struck by a car.

We don't know if she's going to make it. So I made it to the hospital around 1230, maybe one o'clock in the morning and there were already probably 50 college students gathered in the lobby of Baptist hospital there and somewhere around one 30 or so Dean of students came out and announced that Laura had had passed. I was immediately taken back to meet with Dallas. We left the hospital together and about 2 a.m. to about 5 a.m. all of Dallas's friends just descended on his home. In the middle of the night I knew their friend was was hurting and you could start to see the beginning formation of a community that would rally around a great tragedy but produces this amazing fruit of bonded connected relationships that exist to this day texting each other on you know that February evening and I think that David would definitely say that Dallas became a part of their family.

As a matter of fact when Dallas got married many many years later they were at the wedding celebrating along with Dallas and his new wife Christine. So it's just amazing to see how God sort of worked through Laura's life. She was infectious with grace and it continued to manifest itself even after death. In the days after her death they were compiling photographs and someone had taken a picture of Laura in a field just typical Laura they had arrived at this field because she just thought it was beautiful and she thought you know what that's a field that we just need to run across. So they pulled the car over and pulled their camera and snapped a quick photo as Laura is starting to run up into the field. So it's the pictures of this large field and she's on the right of the photograph running up the hill and after she passed that photo became the one that everybody sort of clung to because everybody kept looking at saying you know it just looks like she's going somewhere and we knew exactly where she was going. It was very inspirational so much so that there were a couple of ladies that actually did paintings of that photograph that I kept that always reminded me of Laura's home going.

The day after Laura's passing Les and Laura's boyfriend Dallas rode together to St. Francisville, Louisiana where her parents David and Coco were having a wake at their home. Before we left for St. Francisville Dallas and I went to her house. As soon as I walked into her room there's that immediate heartbreak of seeing a place that used to be occupied and isn't anymore and it just it all looks wrong and unnerving.

But I immediately also noticed that she had painted all over the walls. The first thing I saw on the left hand side I can still put myself there on the top of the closet was whatever my lot thou has taught me to say it is well with my soul. The first thing I saw when I went to her bedroom it was just that was Laura's identity so much so that she couldn't even live in a room without it being plastered on the walls and I actually got to preach on that very passage at her funeral some days later which was a big honor for me.

It was one of those evenings where you're up into the night trying to put together whatever I was going to do. What in the world do you say in the midst of this kind of tragedy but it was her guidance that got me through that because she was the one who had provided the scripture passage and the theme of her life and she got a chance to stand up and tell people that it was well with Laura's soul and there's a lot of joy in that. Les remembers being there with the Trepan dolls at the sentencing for Greg the young man who struck Laura. Again I can place myself in that courtroom I do think Greg came in with an attendant amount of fear and anxiety but people began to stand up and read letters and the judge even talked about how many letters they had received and he ended by saying and I was most astounded by the letter that I received from the young lady's parents saying that they had forgiven Greg completely and did not hold any grudges against him. Here's David to read the letter that his family wrote to the judge on October the 21st 2003 about a week before Greg's sentencing. Your honor we appreciate the opportunity to convey our sentiments to you regarding the sentencing of Greg Gibbs. We are Christians. Forgiveness is an integral part of our Christian faith. We have asked Christ and he has enabled us to fully forgive Greg Gibbs and the other young men involved in this tragedy.

Therefore from our own personal perspective we have no need nor will we gain any satisfaction from seeing Greg Gibbs further punished. We recognize however that much more is involved here than our own personal well-being. A felony has been committed. The life of a beautiful innocent young woman has been lost and this state through the office of your court is responsible for taking the wisest possible action to minimize the chances of similar tragedies reoccurring. You have been entrusted with an awesome responsibility. We pray that God will guide you and give you his wisdom as you decide the appropriate sentence for Greg Gibbs.

Sincerely yours, The Trepan Dolls. There's not a whole lot of experiences that I've had that come really close to the impact that that experience had on me. Dallas actually grabbed me by the hand and said they want me to come back and meet with Greg.

Would you come with me? So the three of us went back with all the lawyers in the room and I can see this to this day. Greg came and sat down ashen just gray-faced terrified at what he was about to hear and Dallas reached across the table and grabbed Greg's hands and he said there is zero animosity that I have towards you. If there's any fear in your mind that you might feel that it's gone.

It's not in me and it's only because the grace of Christ. So when the judge came in and announced that they had forgiven them it was a powerful moment. The whole room was in tears. There was such a wellspring of undeserved favor and it was beautiful and I think marked one of the reasons why Greg went on and did well afterwards. Laura wouldn't have had it any other way.

And what a remarkable piece of storytelling. Laura was infectious with grace. I keep picturing her stopping with some friends seeing that field and then that picture. I see it in my head.

I see her in my head and I know you do too. You want to talk about infectious grace showing up pre-sentencing from a family that could teach all of us a whole lot how to let go how to forgive how to live with grace and mercy Christian or not. This is the answer and notice the careful calibration of that beautiful letter.

If only we could all all write a letter like that after losing a loved one. When we come back well one of the most beautiful stories already and it's not over that we've told here on this show the story continues here on Our American Stories. The 2024 presidential campaign features two candidates who are very well known to Americans and yet there's complexity at every turn. Criminal trials for one of those candidates. Young voters who are angry. The campaign moment podcast from the Washington Post gives you what matters. I'm Aaron Blake and I'm covering my 10th election cycle.

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All you can stream with zoom or play. And we return to our American stories and to Laura Treppendal story. Here's Madison to take it home. Many people wonder how the treppendals chose to forgive the driver who hit Laura. It was no effort to do that. We just weren't angry at Greg Gibbs. We were sad, but it's like, I felt so sorry for him because of what this had done to his life. I mean, he recognized that he had a problem. And so we couldn't have ginned up anger if we tried. We were sad. We miss Laura. Right before the trial, we met with Greg and his parents and his attorney.

Person who was most affected was the attorney. He started weeping. He says this doesn't happen. This is just doesn't nobody's ever feel. I said look, we're not mad at Greg. Anybody who carries around this bitterness is just stupid.

It'll put an attorney out of a job. You're used to the anger. There's nothing to be gained by carrying around bitterness and vengeance. Right.

It just eats your guts out. And knowing that the perpetrator for Laura's death is suffering does not benefit our family in any way. Yeah, we didn't want to lose two people.

Right. The idea of Greg sitting in jail for a long time would actually make us less happy. The level of guilt and regret that we knew Greg was facing was enough. We wanted to move on. We all wanted to heal from it. We wanted him to heal from it.

When you go through a bit of trauma, you can either isolate or you can draw near to those that you're with. And we drew near. So what we did, one of Laura's favorite restaurants was Old Tail Grocery.

It was like two months later. We said we're gonna have a celebration of Laura's life and we're gonna invite some of her friends to come and tell Laura stories. And the deal is no sad stories. It all has to be funny.

Often you have a funeral and it's very sad. And then that's it. But this was an unconventional way of doing things.

Yeah. So the restaurant would hold like 220 people. And so we said, well, we want the whole thing out, but my gosh, we're not gonna put 220 people. It ended up who's in and who's out. Like standing room, only one in, one out. It was like everybody wanted to come.

And we invited the guys who were in the Tahoe and five of them came. And I gotta say in the whole process, that was the most cathartic experience of all. There were so many people at King and told crazy Laura stories, things that we'd never heard. I mean, stuff about painting her fingernails green and doing races through Walmart and shopping carts with them, pushing it through. I mean, I was kind of, it was like, it was really good. And I think something that our family did was we, we grieved well, we embraced Laura.

We didn't put her pictures away. We didn't try to forget. We wanted like all of it. We wanted to hear every story. And while those stories are kind of sometimes painful to hear, it's part of the grieving process. I probably released more tears over that two hour period than any other period. And they were joyful tears. So people would get up and tell a story. It was really fun.

I would laugh till I cried and I would cry and I would cry. It was just, it was such a relief. Laura journaled extensively throughout her life from the time she was 14 years old.

We have all of our journals. What was so phenomenal is to watch her in her journals, spiritually mature, where at some point she's, she's got all these worries and concerns and things like this. But, but this time, I mean, she's not worried about anything. It's almost like she knew she was. It's like she knew.

It's a, it's a scary thing of thinking about living forever. And that was something she wrestled with for a while. And in the last few months of her life, she achieved a tremendous amount of peace in that category. One day, Laura was riding in the car with her mother, Coco. They were on their way to her college door. About halfway along the drive, Laura just burst out crying, just uncontrollable sobbing.

And Coco pulls over and says, Laura, what are you crying about? And she says, I think heaven's going to be boring. I love life so much the way it is. I can't imagine that life after death is going to be better than this. I don't want to be bored.

I don't want to be up there with the angels and the clouds and the harps and all that kind of stuff. She really thought about those types of things. And so in her last few months, she had a different perspective and she was ready to go. She was ready. I mean, if you just read what she wrote, it just talks about how there really is a happily ever after and everything does kind of like an everything does work out no matter what. And so she wrote this in her journal, which last year, which was about a week before she died. One of my best friends about 15 years ago looked at me and he says, David, I want what you have.

I just don't want to pay the price you paid to have it. Having gone through this experience, there were huge silver linings. Rob and his two sisters were particularly close before. They're soulmates. They're best friends. Our whole family drew near and that nearness has never left. It's been 18 years. We needed each other.

And that has not changed since February 7th. For me, I always had these night fears as a kid. I was very afraid that someone was coming into the house. This fear that someone was going to come and kill me or my family.

I don't know. I had this level of anxiety at night as a kid. So he got his little sister to sleep in his room so they would get first before. No joke. Put her by the window. So put Sophie issue, my sacrificial lamb. I'm seven. I'm eight years old. She's three years younger.

I'm like, well, they'll get her first. If Sophie's not in the room, I'm sleeping on the floor. My parents' room, my, my sister's rooms. I'm going to counseling for this. It carried with me.

This is embarrassing all the way in high school. I had this fear, this anxiety, something was coming and it ended the night Laura died. After that, I slept in peace and I never thought about it at all.

It was an overnight. What I realized later as I kind of put the pieces together was what I feared the most something terrible happened. My family happened and I was okay. The way that this experience affected us in the longterm was a life filled with more meaning, more purpose and way less fear. You need these things to make you, you're going to be, don't waste them when they come because they're going to come.

If you let them in better, you, you have missed the opportunity that they offer to you, which is to grow up and to trust and to come out of them, to be a person who doesn't have fear anymore. Being freed from fear is the biggest gift that you can receive from a challenge like this. You don't get through this thing, carrying a bunch of anger and vengeance and bitterness. It'll never leave you. I mean, you want to get through life.

You want to have quality of life. Don't carry all this bitterness stuff. So we didn't do anything Herculean or wonderful. It was just this universal thing where we felt sorry for Greg.

We felt bad for Greg and we later helped with him getting a pardon. It's like we don't want to continue the cycle of pain. Let's do what little bit that we can to not add more pain to the situation. You go through something like this, and then you look and your children are soulmates and you and your wife are close. I mean, the little stuff just doesn't bother me. It's irrelevant.

I can go through this. It's a ticket out of the rat race if you allow it to be. A hundred percent. And a special thanks to the Treppendal family for telling this story, this beautiful story, and to Les Newsome and to Madison for putting the piece together. Madison herself is a product of Ole Miss and lives here in Oxford. It took no effort at all. The dad said about how they managed to forgive Greg. We couldn't have ginned up anger if we tried. We were sad. We missed Laura.

We're just not mad at Greg. And when he talked about that party he threw and he invited the five guys in the Tahoe that took her life. And then as he said, I shed more tears during that dinner, joyful tears than I had in the entire time before. And that it was such a relief. Moreover, what the son said that we had to grieve and we grieved well.

The story of Laura Treppendal and her family, a story of grace, forgiveness, and love here on Our American Stories. On BBC Radio 4, Britain's biggest paranormal podcast is going on a road trip. I thought in that moment, oh my God, we've summoned something from this board. This is Uncanny USA. He says somebody's in the house and I screamed. Listen to Uncanny USA wherever you get your BBC podcasts, if you dare.

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