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After Couple Forgave Son's Killer, All Three Were Able to Start New Life

September 01, 1985|DAVID McCORMICK | Associated Press

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. — For more than two years, Frank and Elizabeth Morris dedicated their lives to punishing the drunk driver who had killed their only child.

Driven by hatred, they monitored his every court appearance, followed him to the county jail to make sure he was serving his weekend sentence and watched his apartment to try to catch him violating his probation.

"We wanted him in prison," Elizabeth Morris said. "We wanted him dead."

Tommy Pigage, the young man who caused the fatal crash, still gets a lot of attention from the Morrises.

They drive him to church twice a week and often set a place for him at their dinner table.

Couple Forgives Pigage

Unable to find satisfaction through revenge, the couple recently decided to forgive Pigage and try to rebuild his life along with their own.

"The hate and the bitterness I was feeling was destroying me," Elizabeth Morris said. "I needed to forgive Tommy to save myself."

Since the Morrises made their decision to befriend him, Pigage, 26, has joined their church, quit drinking and become an active lecturer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"They've given me a better life," he said. "They've made it much easier for me to live with myself and forgive myself."

Pigage said he started drinking at 16 and that alcohol soon became a problem.

Lost Several Jobs

"I just couldn't let it go," he said. "I lost several jobs because of it, and the last couple of years, I would just sit home with a bottle," usually of whiskey.

Pigage said he knew he had been drinking too much at the party he attended before the accident Dec. 23, 1982. Nevertheless, he refused friends' offers to drive him home.

"I said, 'No, I'll be all right.' "

He was only a mile from his home when his car strayed across the center line and hit an oncoming car driven by 18-year-old Ted Morris, out visiting friends after his first semester away at college.

Morris died Christmas Eve morning, and Pigage was arrested for murder after his blood alcohol level registered almost three times the amount required to be legally intoxicated.

The Morrises first saw him at a preliminary hearing a few days after their son was buried.

"We wanted to take a look at him and see what they'd do to him," said Elizabeth Morris, 40.

"We wanted the worst to happen," added her husband, 44, a United Parcel Service driver.

They were expecting swift justice but had much to learn about how courts work.

Murder Charge Reduced

The grand jury handed them their first disappointment, reducing the murder charge to second-degree manslaughter. Pigage pleaded innocent, which infuriated the Morrises, and trial was postponed again and again.

"Every time it would be delayed, I would get more upset, and my hatred for him would grow," Elizabeth Morris said.

Their disappointment peaked last October, 22 months after the accident, when Pigage changed his plea to guilty and was freed on probation.

"We felt like everything that had happened was to his benefit, not the victim's," Frank Morris said.

Although Pigage was not imprisoned, the terms of his five-year probation were unusual enough to get statewide publicity.

Terms of Probation

To show Pigage the carnage drunk drivers can cause, Circuit Judge Edwin White ordered him to watch an autopsy performed, ride with an ambulance crew on emergency runs and work as a volunteer in a hospital emergency room.

He was ordered to spend one night in jail every other weekend, and Elizabeth Morris made sure that he complied.

"I'd go by the jail myself and make sure he was there," she said. "By this time, I didn't trust anybody."

Pigage was also ordered to stop drinking and to share his experience with high school students at MADD lectures.

Elizabeth Morris, by then a MADD leader, was there last winter for his first speech at the Trigg County High School.

"I wanted to hear what he had to say. I really expected him to say that it wasn't his fault, that it could have happened to anybody," she said.

"But he didn't say that. He got up and referred to himself as a murderer. He said he had received a very light sentence and that he should be in prison. He was accepting responsibility for what he did."

Elizabeth Morris was touched.

"He looked just like a little whipped puppy," she said. "I actually felt sorry for him."

Violated Parole

She went backstage after the lecture, but her sympathy evaporated when she smelled liquor on his breath. She later drove by his apartment and saw him drinking, a violation of his probation.

The next time Pigage checked in with his probation counselor, his blood alcohol level was over the limit. He was ordered to begin serving a 10-year jail sentence.

Elizabeth Morris visited him behind bars to say she wanted to help him stop drinking.

"I felt it had already wiped out one very special life," she said. "I didn't want to see it waste his too."

It was not an easy meeting.

"I was scared to death," she recalled.

"I wanted to avoid them, I was so ashamed," Pigage said. "I knew they hated me."

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