FLORENCE — The children of a local couple killed in a January 2018 crash said they know their parents would want them to extend the type of forgiveness to the driver who caused the crash that their parents always displayed.
James and Jo Ann Skipworth, both 81, died in the crash that also resulted in the indictment of the driver of the other vehicle, Tamara Lipford Sharp, on two counts of manslaughter.
Sharp, who had seven DUI convictions before that incident, had morphine and Oxycodone in her system at the time of the crash. She was on a social media site on her cellphone when the wreck occurred, according to her indictment.
She pleaded guilty to both manslaughter counts in an agreement that called for her to serve two years in prison.
Greg Kimbrell, a son-in-law for the Skipworths', read a statement during Tuesday's sentencing hearing that the Skipworths' three children — Tancy Skipworth Naramore, Pam Skipworth Kimbrell and Jamie Skipworth — had written.
It spoke of the painful memories of losing their parents and the forgiving nature of the Skipworths.
Kimbrell said Jo Ann Skipworth never regained consciousness after the wreck on Alabama 20 near Lauderdale 228 in the Central Heights community, but they were able to talk with James Skipworth before he died from his injuries.
That included James Skipworth describing the moments after the crash.
"When he looked over to the seat next to him where our mother was, he said, 'Wake up Jo Jo. We have to get out of the car.' But she never responded back to him," Kimbrell read.
The couple were airlifted to Huntsville Hospital, where they died, with Jo Ann passing first.
"One of the hardest parts was having to tell our dad as he was being wheeled into her room in his hospital bed that she was not going to make it," Kimbrell read. "With the family at bedside he began telling Jo, the love of his life for 61 years, his final goodbyes, and that he would see her again soon."
The following day, their father died.
"His last promise to Jo that he would see her again had become a reality," Skipworth read.
The next part of the family's statement addressed Sharp directly: "Before he passed away he told us, 'I forgive her,' you, Miss Sharp, 'and I hope and pray if she doesn't know Jesus that she finds him," Skipwowrth said.
The statement from the children also described the anguish Sharp has caused.
"No more visits," it stated. "No more conversation or family meals together. It was just final. No more time together, all because of your selfish and careless act with no regard for other people's safety.
"The hardest part of losing our parents was the way they were just snatched from us. We still want to call and tell them things that are happening with their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren, but that's impossible. We truly hope there's been remorse, reflection, repentance and acceptance of responsibility for your actions."
They told Sharp they would not be "held prisoner by unforgiveness and bitterness," and will try to forgive her.
"No matter how hard that is, with God's help, we are doing our best to do just that," they said.
After the statement, Sharp, seated in a wheelchair from injuries in that same wreck, replied "there are no words" she could say to make up for the death of the Skipworths.
"If I could just take their place, I would," she said. "I really would. All I can say is I'm sorry and I hope you forgive me."
Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Ben Graves told Sharp she is fortunate to only have a two-year sentence.
"Miss Sharp, you are a lucky woman to have victims of these crimes that have that set of beliefs and follow through with those beliefs," Graves said. "I was dumbfounded, really, at the number of violations that you have committed in the past.
"I would never undo an agreement that the victims have reached that helps them reach closure for the loss of their parents, but there's a great deal of forgiveness that was implicit in them agreeing to such a light sentence," he said.
"Two years in prison is in no way retribution. No amount of time would be."
The judge then told the family: "There is really nothing that this court can do that would give y'all adequate satisfaction. You can really only get that through ultimately forgiveness and understanding, and it sounds like y'all have done that."
Graves and Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly also thanked the family for their patience as they worked through the judicial system that was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the hearing, Connolly said he feels for the family, and is uncomfortable with merely using the word "tragedy" to describe the deaths of the Skipworths.
"It's just so sad," he said. "I appreciate the family's patience with us. When you say it's a tragedy — that's something that's unavoidable. This was avoidable."
Kimbrell and Dennis Naramore, another son-in-law of the Kimbrells, said the family made its statement during the hearing as a way to honor the Skipworths and the deep faith they always displayed, and to carry on that faith through the action of forgiveness.
"For us to be able to move on, we have to forgive," Naramore added.
Kimbrell added that he doesn't "necessarily like it" but knows God wants the family to forgive.
"For us to be forgiven, we must also forgive," he said.