Mother forgives, helps convicted drunk driver who killed her son
July 31, 2011 is the day that changed Tiki Finlayson’s life forever.
It’s the day her son, Kevin Yates, was hit in a head-on crash by a drunk driver. Yates, 25, died the next day.
He was coming from work. The other driver was coming from a night of partying and heavy drinking.
“It was just so senseless because there were several times along the evening that someone could have intervened in her actions that could have prevented Kevin’s death and those things weren’t done. Those choices weren’t made,” said Finlayson.
Finlayson didn’t get angry. Instead, she chose to forgive Latisha Stephens, the woman who hit her son, while Yates was still in the hospital fighting for his life.
“Even though I didn’t feel like forgiving, even though I wanted to do something completely opposite, I knew that I didn’t want that moment in time to trap me in a prison for something that she did,” said Finlayson.
At first, Finlayson’s decision surprised and even angered some of her family members but she says she wanted to make her son’s death mean something. She wanted to share the story and make a positive impact and says she knew that forgiveness had to be part of the process.
The loss of her son led to a new journey for Finlayson, a new purpose and a new friendship.
Within days of the crash, the Chattanooga mom started the organization, 1N3, to educate people about the impact of drinking and driving. The name 1N3 comes from the statistic that one in three people will be impacted by drunk driving.
The two women met for the first time face to face during a restorative justice meeting before Stephens was sentenced to prison for vehicular homicide by intoxication.
“I opened it with I forgive you but that doesn’t mean what you did was ok. At the end of it I asked her if I could hug her and before I even got the words out of my mouth, she was standing up. I was standing up. We hugged and just stood there and cried,” said Finlayson.
Stephens expressed remorse and a desire to be part of the solution.
They communicated often while Stephens was in prison and Finlayson went to visit her a few times. She also attended Stephens’ parole hearing and asked the parole board to allow her to come home. The board granted it and Stephens was released from prison on November 13, 2013.
The two women formed a friendship that no one would have ever imagined.
They began speaking together in January 2014 and had a powerful message to share.
Five years later, Finlayson and Stephens are still sharing their message about the consequences of drinking and driving.
They also talk about the power of forgiveness which Finlayson describes as "a daily choice."
“We have a wonderful relationship and I’m so thankful for it. We’ve gone shopping. We go out to eat. I’ve been to her kids’ birthday parties. She comes to my house and we hang out. It’s a true friendship,” Finlayson told Channel 3.
She says she knows her son would be proud.
“He was the most kind, compassionate person and just lived life to the fullest and had fun in everything he did. I’m honoring him by doing what I’m doing because I know it is exactly what he would have done,” said Finlayson.
Yates was an organ donor and because of that choice, he saved four lives. Finlayson met the man who received her son’s heart and says she hopes to meet the others someday.
For more information about 1N3, visit the organization's website.