Athlete's Parents Forgive Driver in Crash

Memories of their son's quick wit and infectious toothless grin are all that is left for Luann and Graham Snyder.

The death of their son, Dan Snyder, a 25-year-old hockey player for the Atlanta Thrashers, has been a tremendous loss.

"He was always silly," recalled Luann Snyder. "Very expressive without words, but always very silly. Always had everybody laughing."

His parents always joked that their boys were born with hockey sticks in their hands.

"I think the joy that he had playing hockey always shined through," Graham Snyder said.

Fans and teammates who saw that joy firsthand were shocked at the tragic news of the young forward's death. On the night of Sept. 29, Snyder was seated in the passenger seat of a Ferrari that crashed into a brick wall at an estimated 80 miles per hour in Atlanta. After six days in a coma, Snyder died from his head injuries on Oct. 5. The driver — his teammate and good friend, 22-yr-old Dany Heatley — survived, despite broken bones and bruises.

"They were only three years apart in age and, I don't know, there was just an instant 'likeness' there," Luann Snyder said. "They liked to do things. They liked the same music. They liked going to concerts. They just seemed to really click."

Ferrari Speeds out of Control

When the crash happened, the Ferrari was going well over the speed limit, spinning out of control. Both Dan Snyder and Heatley had been drinking, but a Breathalyzer test showed that Heatley's blood-alcohol level was within the legal limits.

Snyder's death been painful for his team as well as for his family.

"I didn't lose a player," said Bob Hartley, the Thrashers' head coach. "I lost a son."

"We used to call him chicken legs because he had really skinny legs," said Don Waddell, the team's vice president and general manager. "He was a fun guy to be around. Loved by his teammates. Loved by the fans."

Waddell presented Dan Snyder's skates to his family after his death. "These were Danny's skates," Waddell said, receiving a hug from Luann Snyder. "We thought you'd want to have them."

An Extraordinary Act

The Snyders painfully grappled with their own grief, and were almost consumed by it, until they did something extraordinary.

They forgave the driver of the car who killed their son. The Snyders welcomed all of their son's teammates at the funeral, including Heatley. After the service, Graham Snyder hugged Heatley. The act of forgiveness gave peace both to themselves and the young man left behind, the Snyders said.

"As they say, there but for the grace of God go I," Graham Snyder said. "It served no purpose for us or anyone else to be bitter or angry .There's enough pain and suffering to deal with without that emotion as well."

Dan Snyder's mother said that her son's death was an accident.

"They were two good kids and something bad happened, and I think we can forgive him for that," Luann Snyder said.

The Snyders' forgiveness will help Heatley and the rest of the team cope with the loss, said Waddell.

"He's going to be remorseful for a long time. I don't know that you ever get over this, but you've got to find a way to deal with it. I think again, going back to the Snyder family, they are the number one reason why we're all going to be able to heal faster," Waddell said.

Just days after his return to the ice last week, Heatley spoke publicly for the first time since the accident that claimed his friend and teammate's life.

"I'm going to miss him forever," Healtley said in a news conference last week. "I just want to thank the Snyder family for their support … they're an amazing family," he said.

Heatley still faces vehicular homocide charges stemming from the accident.

A Supportive Community

The Snyders are quick to point out that even though people have said that they are amazing, they do not feel that they did anything special.

"We've been surrounded by amazing people throughout this whole thing and it's those amazing people that are keeping me going," Luann Snyder said. Members of their tight-knit community showed up by the hundreds for Dan Snyder's funeral. His team keeps his memory alive, proudly wearing his number "37" stitched on their jerseys, above their hearts.

"We want to move on and we want everyone to heal, but we do have a long road to go yet," Luann Snyder said. "But we know that we'll get there. There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

For a family and friend forever bound in tragedy, forgiveness was the first step toward that light.