Devastating circumstances resulted in a beautiful friendship that was recently documented in a report from People.
On October 2, 2006, Matt Swatzell was a tired firefighter paramedic in Dacula, Georgia. After a long day, he began to drive home — only to fall asleep at the wheel. He ended up crossing the center line and hitting a car driven by a pregnant woman named June Fitzgerald. Her 19-month-old daughter, Faith, was in the backseat.
“It was literally three or four seconds that it took to nod off and to cross the center line and to meet the other car,” Swatzell recalled.
“I can still see it. I can still smell it. The horrendous noise and the glass breaking.”
Swatzell went to the hospital only to learn the tragic outcome — Faith had lived, but June and her unborn baby did not make it. He had taken his job in order to save lives, not take them away.
“I’m supposed to be a helper,” Swatzell said.
“The EMT and the paramedic and fireman helps in these tragic situations, and here I am, caused this.”
Erik Fitzgerald, June’s husband, could have chosen to pursue the maximum sentence for Swatzell. Fitzgerald is also a pastor and recalled some wise words he had heard in a sermon that helped him figure out how to proceed.
“In moments where tragedy happens or even hurt, there [are] opportunities to demonstrate grace or to exact vengeance. Here was an opportunity where I could do that. And I chose to demonstrate grace.”
Fitzgerald opted not to go further with the case. Instead, Swatzell paid a fine and did community service. Fitzgerald and Swatzell would not interact until later — funnily enough, on the second anniversary of June’s death. Swatzell was at the grocery store to buy a condolence card for Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald spotted Swatzell in the parking lot and approached him. Fitzgerald told Swatzell that he forgave him, prompting Swatzell to immediately burst into tears. Swatzell referred to Fitzgerald’s words as “the biggest relief.” The two ended up talking for hours, only to form a friendship that has lasted a decade.
“I said, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re going to say to this, but I just feel like in my spirit that I’m supposed to stay connected to you somehow,'” Fitzgerald recollected.
“And he’s like, ‘Dude, I feel the same way.'”
The two now see each other often and even spend time together during the holidays. Swatzell especially appreciates getting to know Faith, who is now 12-years-old. Fitzgerald ended up remarrying and having a new baby. The baby was born on the exact date June’s baby was due.
While the beautiful friendship is helping them heal, Swatzell admits he hasn’t been able to forgive himself the way June’s husband forgave him.
“I can’t say, ‘This is a beautiful story and it’s got a great ending.’ It doesn’t,” Swatzell said.
“It’s nasty, it’s real, and it’s something that I’m going to struggle with for the rest of my life.”