A Minnesota couple has taken the bold decision to forgive the man responsible for killing their son and grandchildren in a horrific car wreck that occurred exactly two years ago, on July 31, 2016.
“I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I not forgive you?” father Rick Pals told the convicted driver, Tony Weekly, according to KNOP-TV. “I am not in the position of authority to extend you mercy, Tony, however I can request mercy for you.”
Pals lost his son, Jamison, 29, daughter-in-law Kathryne, 29, and grandchildren Ezra, 3, Violet, 23 months and Calvin, 2 months, when Weekly slammed into their vehicle on Interstate 80 near Brule. The family were on their way to Colorado to attend a training event for an upcoming mission trip to Japan.
According to a report from the Star Tribune shortly after the accident, the couple met at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, an evangelical Christian college in Roseville. In the months leading up to the horrific crash, the family had sold most of their belongings in preparation for their big move, which was expected to take place in late October.
“They were just going to travel with one big backpack for each of them,” Jamison’s mom, Kathy Pals, said at the time.
Before they left, Jamison wrote on his blog, which was titled “Joy of Japan”, “We want Jesus Christ for Japan. That’s what ‘the joy of Japan’ really means.”
Weekly pled no contest to seven charges, six of which were related to vehicle homicide; the seventh was a reckless driving charge. Nebraska State Patrol Investigators proved Weekly was distracted by his phone when he struck the family’s vehicle, causing it to ignite.
Due to the severity of the incident, Weekly faced major time behind bars. But in an astonishing show of grace, Pals pleaded with the judge to be lenient on the driver at sentencing.
“Everybody makes mistakes, and he didn’t start out that day planning on killing our children,” the father explained. Despite his staggering show of mercy, Pals admitted that he struggles “to find the words to describe the grief that gripped me” following the accident.
The father of Kathryne Pals also petitioned the judge for a lighter sentence.
“We ask the court to give the maximum allowable grace,” he declared in court. “We’ve had people say, ‘Well you have to be super Christians.’ No, we’re just plain people but we have a super God that just lifted us up.”
“That is how we can walk this path,” added his wife, Nancy. “It’s because we have hope.”
In an incredible show of forgiveness, the Pals family even gave Weekly a hug as he appeared in court for the sentencing.
“I thought, maybe when I see him I won’t be so forgiving, but it was just the opposite,” explained Rick’s wife, Kathy Pals. “It instilled in me more of a desire to be at peace with him.”
Weekly was sentenced to 180 days in prison, as well as 24 months probation. He has also been ordered to pay a $100 fine for reckless driving.
“If there was anything I could do to stop that accident two years ago from happening, I would do it. I wake up every day and I think about Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet, Calvin and Mr. Sullivan,” Weekly told the family in a prepared statement.
Rick Pals ended his statement with some stunningly powerful words: “Grief is real, but it is temporary. Hope is just as real and it’s eternal. Thank you for allowing me to speak. I leave you with these three words: forgiveness, mercy, hope.”
Jamison and Kathryne had been through a lot prior to their untimely death. According to an article by Brett Rayl, Director and Team Leader for CBI Japan and also the man who was due to meet the Pals’ at the airport when they arrived in Japan, Kathryne conquered ovarian cancer while pregnant with her son Calvin.
As for Jamison, Rayl detailed that he had suffered from crippling depression. “Jesus provided me with hope that sustained my life, even when I didn’t want it to be sustained,” Pals wrote on his blog.
Despite their hardships, Rayl declared that “no impediments from without or from within could prevent this family from moving forward to pursue God’s mission for all peoples to hear the gospel and respond in worship.” And that is exactly what they intended to do as they traveled down to Colorado on that fateful day two years ago.
Rayl concluded his piece:
“Their plane never arrived in Nagoya. With most of their belongings sold and an apartment on hold for them in Japan, the Lord intervened in a way that is hard for any of us to fathom. He called the entire family home in an instant, leaving empty chairs and empty tables in Minnesota and in Nagoya. They so easily could have flown instead of driving. The driver could have paid more attention. They could have been five minutes earlier or later on the road. They might have made one of their earlier arrival goals and been in Japan by July 31, 2016. But God moved and this young family was called to glory.”
Pray for this family as they continue to deal with this astonishing loss.