Frederick Smith Jr. talks grieving process following deaths of daughter & granddaughter in car crash
Frederick James Smith Jr. was in bed when a friend called about a fatal crash on Texas 82.
“He said, ‘I think it was your daughter and grandbaby that died in that wreck,’” Smith recalls.
And it was.
Smith’s daughter, L’Amberia McDaniel, 35, and granddaughter, Eriana Washington, 14, along with family friend Danny “Dani” Nichols Jr., 32, were killed May 20 when their Cadillac sedan was struck head-on by a Dodge Ram truck driven by Chance Glynn Craddock.
McDaniel’s 4-year-old son was also in the vehicle but received only minor injuries.
Craddock was arrested on three counts of intoxication manslaughter with bonds totaling $1.5 million.
Things were looking up for McDaniel in the time leading up to her death. She worked at Best Motors in Port Arthur and on the day of the crash had been promoted to office manager.
A recent Facebook video by McDaniel showed her proudly walking through her new home, room by room. Her oldest child, Eriana, was named the eighth grade valedictorian at Tekoa Academy of Accelerated Studies STEM School, where she was to graduate several weeks later.
McDaniel also has three sons, ages 2, 4 and 11, the grandfather said.
Smith said his daughter was coming from the new home in the Lakeside area of town when the crash occurred.
Port Arthur Police believe Craddock, 25, of the Nacogdoches area, crossed the center line into oncoming traffic due to intoxication. A probable cause affidavit details the crash investigation, saying the first officer noted the smell of alcohol Craddock’s breath, his speech was slurred and he appeared to be disoriented.
A second officer also spoke with Craddock and noted the same.
Craddock allegedly made a statement about taking two doses of his prescribed anti-anxiety medication and a Zoloft tablet several hours before the wreck. The warrant alleged Craddock also made a statement about having double vision since taking the medication.
The second officer performed a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test and a Lack of Convergence test reportedly due to the risk for spinal injury after the wreck. The tests also are used to check for intoxication.
Craddock allegedly failed both tests.
Blood samples were drawn at The Medical Center of Southeast Texas, which reportedly showed intoxication approximately twice the .08 legal limit.
“That’s where the angels are”
A couple following McDaniel stopped to help after the wreck. The woman got out, Smith said, and saw the condition of the bodies and thought everyone was dead.
The truck that collided with the sedan was large and sturdily made.
“And my grandson hit the backseat and hit the floor and my granddaughter was covering him,” he said. “And the lady said when she go there it was so bad. She said he (grandson) popped up.”
The woman stayed with the boy and rode with him to the hospital as her husband followed in their vehicle. She told Smith when the child was being brought to a room, he motioned to a different room saying he wanted to go in there. “That’s where the angels are.”
“She said she didn’t want to let him see her cry. She had to get out,” Smith recalls. “She said she couldn’t hold it, and that woman stayed in the bed with him the whole while the whole time in the bed.”
Smith did not give the woman’s name but said she is now part of the family.
Smith is now learning to live with the sudden loss of his daughter and granddaughter.
A maintenance specialist at Lamar University, Smith went to work and walked in the Montagne Center talking to God — he wanted to know why his L’Amberia and Eriana were taken away.
He got a phone call from a man who put things in perspective. The man asked if his daughter had had COVID, if she had had cancer or a heart attack or stroke. The answers were “no.”
“She didn’t suffer,” Smith said the man told him.
If his daughter had had COVID he would have had to look at her from a hospital window. If she had had cancer he would have seen her pain and not been able to take it away. If she had had a heart attack or stroke she may have needed a walker.
Smith made a jabbing motion with his elbow signifying a sudden action and said “God just got something better for them, no suffering, no nothing.”
In the weeks since the deaths, Smith has relied on faith, family and friends to help get through the loss. He has spoke with people who have also lost children and now knows he may be the one who will one day be a comfort to others.
Smith said he has seen signs he believes show his daughter and granddaughter are at peace. Over the past weekend he had a fish fry to thank his sister who has helped. He moved an empty garbage can that had no water in it and noticed a spot on the cement in the shape of a heart. There were also footprints near the heart.
He takes this as a sign from the mother and daughter telling him they are at peace.
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