Yesterday, I published Part I of the story of Jennifer and David Beaird, a Warrenton couple whose two children were killed when the Beairds’ car was struck from behind by a drunk driver — James Leroy Green — in eastern Jackson County last Labor Day. The story concludes today with a look at the Beairds’ financial situation and their tentative plans for the future. Two weeks ago today they welcomed me into their home and talked openly and courageously about their tragedy. Their children were son Gavin, 13, and daughter Chloe, 7. In addition, David’s spinal cord was severed, and he is paralyzed from the chest down and adjusting to life in a wheelchair.
While not dire, the Beairds’ financial situation is uncertain. They will be facing numerous extraordinary expenses in the months and years ahead, including medical equipment for David, household adaptations to accommodate his limitations and very likely a vehicle with hand controls.
Looking ahead, Jennifer may well be the main and only bread winner. She currently heads the H&R Block tax preparation office in Warrenton and, on the side, handles the payroll for a company her brother has in New York City.
Very fortuitously, as it turned out, the couple decided last year that David should buy short-term disability insurance through his employer, a contracting firm affiliated with the St. Louis-based electric and natural gas company Ameren.
“We don’t usually buy anything extra,” Jennifer said, “but I urged him to do it. I said, ‘Let’s get that just in case.’ ”
With the short-term disability, David has been getting about 60 percent of his regular salary. That ends in March, by which time the Beairds are hoping David will have been approved for Social Security disability.
Another blessing was a windfall from a Go Fund Me account that a friend established. The account, which remains active, has raised $35,000 toward a goal of $50,000. The Beairds are setting aside that money for future needs. In addition, they are hoping to get some insurance money from a relatively small auto liability policy Green had.
A plan takes shape
Upon entering the Beairds’ home, I saw scraps of new carpet standing in the living room and new carpet of the same style affixed to the floor.
“We just had new carpet put down this week,” said Kathy Gordon, Jennifer’s mother, who has lived with the Beairds the last three and a half years.
I was immediately puzzled because the carpet loops were loose and variegated, not flat and tight, as one would expect in the home of a wheelchair-bound person.
“Isn’t it going to be difficult for David to push the wheelchair over that?” I asked.
“Oh, they’re getting the house ready to sell,” Gordon said. “We’re going to be moving.”
Although David and Jennifer are adjusting as best they can to a “new normal,” they feel they will do better away from Warrenton and outside of Missouri. Jennifer, who does her best not to dwell on the tragedy and relive it, said awkward occasions sometimes occur. For example, she now often avoids the grocery she used to patronize in Warrenton, going instead to Wentzville, 16 miles to the east. It is difficult for her, she said, when she feels the glances of people who know her and imagines them saying, “Oh, she’s the lady who lost her kids.”
Jennifer admits, without compunction or shame, “I’m running away.”
They hope to sell their home in the spring and move to upstate New York, the area that was home to Jennifer’s family for many years. Jennifer has no other relatives in Missouri, and David’s brother, sister and parents do not live in Warrenton or the St. Louis area.
During my visit with them two weeks ago today, discussion of the pending move precipitated a light-hearted digression from the otherwise difficult conversation. Referring to his newly deepened dependence on Jennifer and Kathy, David said, “I go wherever they go because I have to.”
Jennifer, who was returning to the kitchen table with a beverage, smiled and said, “Oh, thanks!” and then added, “I think he still loves me, too.”
“Mmhmm,” David said. “I do.”
“Maybe a future”
Upright on the living-room floor, propped against a small wooden case, are two large, framed photos – one of Gavin and one of Chloe. On white matting bordering the photos are messages written by friends, teachers and others.
A message to Gavin from a classmate named Tori said, “You were a great friend, an(d) I’ll always remember you!”
On Chloe’s picture, a boy named Dennis wrote these touching words: “I miss you Chloe. You used to smile at me.”
As Jennifer and David prepare for their new life in New York, they will take with them the beautiful smiles of their children and happy memories from those lives cut maddeningly and senselessly short.
They will also take with them total uncertainty.
Jennifer mused, “Maybe we might still have a future, because we don’t have a future now.”
Meanwhile, Green, the driver and defendant in the case, sits in the Jackson County Regional Correction Center contemplating a future behind bars. The prosecutor’s office was able to charge him with two counts of second-degree murder because of the aggravating circumstance of intoxication. Absent intoxication, he probably would have been charged with manslaughter.
If convicted, Green could be sentenced to 30 years to life on each murder count, and the judge would decide whether the sentences would run concurrently or consecutively.
A little after 7 p.m. on Labor Day, Missouri Highway Patrol Trooper B.W. Montgomery interviewed Green in the emergency room at Centerpoint Medical Center, where Green was being treated for minor injuries.
In the “probable cause statement” accompanying the charges, Trooper Montgomery said that upon entering the emergency treatment room, “I immediately detected a strong odor of intoxicants coming from him.”
Green told the trooper he had drunk three beers about an hour before the crash.
Regarding what had occurred on the highway, Montgomery quoted Green as saying:
“I had cruise control on. I was on my way home. I looked down at my phone to swipe to change the song. I did not look up. I was still looking down when the impact happened.”
Green agreed to two blood tests an hour apart to determine his blood alcohol content (BCA). The results have not been made public.
Green has three previous DUI convictions spanning 25 years. He was convicted in Jackson County in 1991 and 2009. The other conviction was in Camden County, in the Ozarks, in 1997.
In a phone conversation I had with David Beaird before meeting with him and Jennifer in Warrenton, David reflected on the devastation that Green had dealt on Labor Day evening:
“He ruined lots of lives, just ruined them. He took so much away – our future…So many people’s future just taken away.”