In October 2, 2006, then 20-year-old firefighter paramedic Matt Swatzell was heading home after spending the previous 24 hours saving lives. He was exhausted after his long shift and closed his eyes for only a few seconds while behind the wheel. Those few seconds were all it took for him to nod off and accidentally crash into another car. The passengers in the vehicle he collided with were a young mother and her 19-month-old daughter, Faith, according to Today.
Swatzell was horrified when he realized what he had done. Though he had dedicated his career to saving lives, his mistake cost the young mother, 30-year-old June Fitzgerald, her life.
"I can still see it. I can still smell it. The horrendous noise and the glass breaking," Swatzell said.
June Fitzgerald was the wife of Erik Fitzgerald, a pastor at a local church. After being told the news of his wife's death, he recalls breaking down while holding his sleeping daughter, Faith, who had survived the crash.
"She crawled into my lap and then she just went to sleep. And I was thankful because I didn't have to pretend that everything was okay," the pastor said.At a different hospital, Swatzell was informed that not only had he killed June Fitzgerald, but that she had been pregnant, and her unborn child also died as a result of the crash. Police told him that he'd likely face prison time for their deaths. However, that wasn't something Erik Fitzgerald even considered.
Although heartbroken by his unimaginable loss, the pastor felt that no other lives needed to be ruined as a result of the tragic accident. He decided not to press any charges against Swatzell, allowing him to go free after given only community service and a fine. But that wasn't all, Fitzgerald remarkably forgave him for everything. Two years after June's death, the two men reconnected and were able to work through the tragedy together.
"That was the biggest relief I'd ever felt. He just said from the start that he had forgiven me," Swatzell said. "Just hearing him say those words, it just impacted my life completely".
Today the two men are like brothers, brought together by tragic circumstances. Swatzell remains a major part of Fitzgerald's life, as well as Faith's, who is now 12-years-old. He has had the opportunity to watch Faith grow and treats her as his own family. He is forever grateful for Fitzgerald, who chose to forgive rather than seek revenge.