Kimberly Lee just wanted Daniel Crane to see her daughter’s smile.
“I’m sure he saw her in that Jeep calling out for help,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I thought it would be good to give him a picture of her smiling.”
Crane was being sentenced in late June for his part in a wreck last year that left Kimberly Lee’s daughter Summer dead.
At the sentencing Kimberly Lee told Crane she forgave him, knowing that “in my heart Summer would want me to forgive you.”
Kimberly Lee asked the judge if she could give Crane a picture of her daughter.
She chose a picture of Summer smiling at the beach, along with a copy of her mother’s handwritten statement.
“I’ve been a judge for 30 years; I’ve seen a lot. It never ceases to amaze me that the victims tend to want to forgive,” Judge Rusty Carlisle told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Carlisle, a retired Cobb County judge who was filling in for the day, not only allowed it, but made it a condition of Crane’s sentence. Throughout Crane’s two years of probation, he is required to carry the photograph on him at all times.
Carlisle agreed the condition was unorthodox, but felt the sentence was just.
“I wasn’t doing it to humiliate the man. I thought, it wouldn’t harm anyone, and it might let the family at ease,” Carlisle said. “He’ll put that letter in his pocket every day. He may never open it, may never see the photo, but he’ll think about it every day.”
Kimberly Lee said the judge’s ruling was a “nice gesture,” but what she and the family really wanted was an apology from Crane, something that never came.
“In court, he never said he was sorry, never really showed remorse, even to this day,” she said. “I would have wanted an apology, ‘Sorry for your loss.’”
When Kimberly Lee gave the photos to Crane, he did not say anything.
“I wouldn’t expect him to take responsibility for the wreck,” she said. “I wanted an apology because you were the one that hit my child, and in that hitting, it caused her death.”
Carlisle said Crane’s attorney likely told him to remain quiet. Crane said he was “accountable for my actions” multiple times, Carlisle said.
Kimberly Lee said Crane’s reticence is especially “gut-wrenching” knowing that Crane likely saw her daughter suffering after the accident.
“To hear that your child’s calling out for help, that’s heart-breaking,” she said.
Lee’s daughter, Summer Lee, died after a multi-vehicle wreck on I-75 on Aug. 20, 2016 when Crane’s tractor-trailer rear-ended Summer Lee’s car, starting off a chain reaction that left seven others injured.
Other details of the case upset the family, including the fact Crane was charged with second-degree vehicular homicide rather than first-degree, the defense’s attempt to blame the accident on Summer despite evidence to the contrary, and the fact Crane did not serve his full 60-day jail sentence.
According to the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Crane served over 30 days in jail on a “2 for 1” credit, cutting his jail time in half.
Lee said she later confronted Crane on the side of the road outside the jail, where Crane said he was sorry and was too scared to say it in court.
But nearly 11 months after the crash, Summer’s family is trying to put the sentence behind them and look at the positive.
“We miss her every second of every day,” Kimberly Lee said. “When this happens to a family, it changes them forever.”
Kimberly Lee said the support from the community has been overwhelming.
Close to 4,000 people showed up to Lee’s viewing, her mother said. Lee played softball and tennis, umpired for a younger kids’ baseball league, and ran a photography business on the side.
In memory of their daughter, the family established the Always Summertime Foundation. Through fundraisers, the foundation has granted $1,000 scholarships to eight students at Locust Grove High School, as well as donated money to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and supported the family of another local teenager who died in a car accident in May.
“Right now, we’re trying to focus on her birthday,” Kimberly Lee said. Summer turned 18 on Aug. 14, six days before the accident. The family intends to throw a birthday party for their late daughter.
A few days later, on the anniversary of the crash, they intend to release butterflies near the crash site.
Kimberly Lee said her daughter’s spirit will stick with her forever.
“Summer’s smile will now be my smile,” she said.
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