A father's struggle to forgive his son's killer
May 24, 2013
George Crawley, a senior at Audubon High School when he was killed in an October 2011 crash, had planned to complete welding school and work in North Dakota.
James "Cricket" Crawley stood in front of the Audubon County Courthouse as jurors considered the fate of the man accused of driving drunk and killing his son in a highway crash near Brayton.
Crawley wanted justice.
His family intently watched the three-day trial, finding both comfort and pain in the words of a stream of witnesses, a passenger who survived the wreck, and law-enforcement officials whose polished, fact-filled testimony quieted haunting questions - but didn't bring Audubon High School senior George Crawley back to them.
There's a raw, gnawing anger, sometimes simmering, other moments boiling, that goes with the loss of a 17-year-old son in this way, James Crawley said.
"I think about it every day, every morning, every night, and a lot of times, in between," Crawley said.
He glanced from the 1939 courthouse, the one built by Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, to the north, across the street, at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church. That's Crawley's church. The congregation gathered there for George's funeral in late 2011 after the crash.
James Crawley said he wanted desperately to forgive 57-year-old Kendall Ware of Lineville - the man accused of driving a pickup across the center line on a bend in U.S. Highway 71 and smashing into the sport utility vehicle in which his son rode, eating McDonald's, talking with a friend about the unlimited potential of life ahead.
Forgiveness is the Christian impulse, but James Crawley, tears in eyes, voice halting, said he couldn't quite summon it this Thursday afternoon.
Maybe the jurors inside, the arbiters of his state's justice system, could help him resolve the struggle of a lifetime. Perhaps the guilty verdict the handed down will free James Crawley to forgive the man who killed his son with reckless drinking and driving, an episode with wild stories of vodka in Gatorade bottles and a late-night ride to find a woman in a bar.
"That's right," Crawley said. "There's not a good way to explain it."
James Crawley thinks about what his son would want him to do now.
"George would want me to forgive," Crawley said. "That's the type of kid he was. He'd help anybody, even if it was his worst enemy. He'd help them."
Crawley, who lives in Hamlin and works for the Audubon Public Works Department, raised a boy who didn't let the dust settle under him. George worked as carpenter and helped pour concrete. What's more, he joined a hog-confinement-construction team in North Dakota the summer before he died, as a 16-year-old.
"I was pretty proud of him for doing that," Crawley said.
George Crawley planned to take welding courses and head to North Dakota to work in the oil fields. He loved fishing and hunting and, along with a friend, Alex Elmquist of Audubon, invented a raccoon-skin remover. It has a drum pulled from an old washing machine with a hydraulic motor on it, his father said, smiling at the memory.
"I guess it worked," James Crawley said with a laugh.
Crawley knows father and son will never hunt together again in this life. They won't take a collective break as a family from the hard work that is their life. George's mother, Jodi Soll, a custodian at Audubon Elementary School, rises at 3 a.m. to be on the job.
"He was a friend," James Crawley said. "He was my fishing and hunting partner."
In the years before he and Jodi divorced, James Crawley recalled coming home one day with a renewed driver's license and telling the family he signed up as an organ donor. George remembered that day, and when it was time for him to drive, he didn't hesitate to follow dad's lead.
George, too, was an organ donor. As he passed from this life, his body remained, and like George, it went to work after the crash. No time to let the dust settle.
"We got a deal a week later stating that his eyes were used, and that some of his skin had been used, and some of his bones," Crawley said.
The family doesn't have the identity of the organ recipients, and James Crawley said he isn't too interested in that. But just knowing his son in death can improve the lives of others helps ease the pain of this loss, if ever so slightly.
The many people who loved and cared for George Crawley placed a memorial just off U.S. Highway 71 on that fateful curve north of Brayton. George's memory lives on along that well-traveled route for many in Audubon.
"A few of the citizens of Brayton had wondered what all the honking was," James Crawley said. "Well, they're honking as they drive by for George."
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