The Story of What Happened to Jeb

We have intentionally kept the details of what happened to our son Johnathan Eugene Bridgeman – “Jeb” – quiet because there was an active police investigation. We felt it was better to wait until everything was finalized. Gregg found out yesterday that the investigation is closed. I feel like it’s important to share, because there seem to be a lot of rumors and gossip around the driver and/or around Jeb.

Here’s the story:

Jeb was walking home from Walmart. It wasn’t dark yet, but it was twilight and had been drizzling throughout that day. He was walking on the right-hand side of a road without a sidewalk, in the shoulder, as close to the grass as he could get. Several cameras from businesses along the highway captured his progress.

At one point he looks over his right shoulder (toward the tree line – not the road) and without hesitation begins to run. He bursts into a full out sprint.

We don’t know what he saw. But something scared him. There have been multiple news stories about a black bear in our town this summer. We all wonder if he saw the bear. Jeb was not a fearful person. A human being would not have scared him. In Fort Knox we had several foxes in our neighborhood. A fox would not have scared him. He might have approached or called out to a stray dog. Smaller animals like raccoons, opossums, or the like would not have phased him. Whatever he saw made him momentarily forget his well-ingrained caution of the roadways and he began to race.

What he saw scared him. It made him run.

As he ran, looking over his right shoulder, he inadvertently veered to his left. He got too close to the edge of the road or possibly even into the road and six steps into his run away from whatever he saw, he was struck by the driver of a pickup truck traveling at about 52 miles per hour. About a full second later, the driver locked his brakes up.

One fear we had was that Jeb lay dying in the middle of the road, in the drizzly pre-dark twilight, alone, in pain, knowing he was dying. The coroner assured us that he died as instantly as instant can be.

The detective told us he is labeling the event a “tragic accident.”

The forensic evidence at scene of this “tragic accident” was deceptive to the actual events. An accident investigator could have concluded that the driver did not hit his brakes and that Jeb was struck 80 feet or more from where the impact really occurred, bringing the driver’s actions and account into question.

The video evidence is conclusive. We may never know why the driver didn’t see him in the first place, but the driver stood on his brakes after he hit Jeb. You can see his truck nose-dive with the lights flaring and hear the squealing of his tires in the video. As soon as the truck came to rest, the driver immediately got out and ran to Jeb, knelt down, and checked on him. Then while on the phone with 9-1-1, he and a friend of his who was driving behind him stood in the middle of the road and protected Jeb’s body from other cars until another driver saw what was going on and blocked traffic with her vehicle.

THREE MINUTES after calling 9-1-1, the first police car car arrived. Two minutes later, the ambulance arrived. After that, the video is obscured by the lights of the ambulance.

We’d like to dispel a few assumptions/rumors that we’ve seen floating around social media and news sites:

  • Jeb did not intentionally step out or jump out in front of the truck. He was not in need of mental health help. He was a happy and thriving young man who had just bought a new watch from Walmart and was walking home in his brand new Converse High Tops that Gregg bought him that day. He left no suicide notes or messages. He did not give any of his possessions away. He had just purchased new things and had communicated his birthday gift requests which would have come a few weeks later.
  • The driver did not flee the scene. He stayed there, attempted to offer aid and comfort, called 9-1-1, and protected our boy’s body with his own.
  • The driver was not impaired, nor was he on his phone, nor texting.
  • He was not intentionally “breezing” a pedestrian nor was he “goofing off” behind the wheel.
  • He was not really speeding. The speed limit was 45 there but had only been lowered from 55 recently.
  • There could be a thousand reasons why the driver did not see Jeb on the side of the road, but any of them could be reasonable and explicable reasons. It only takes a second of distraction for tragedy to strike and anyone who has driven for more than five minutes knows that those distractions happen every day.

The fact is, it was nothing more than a tragic accident.

It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t fix the way the world is a dimmer, darker place without our son.

When I found out there was a video of the impact, my emotional brain rejected the notion of someone watching it – much less Gregg watching it. But, the logical side of my brain is relieved that the facts are known and there are no assumptions. Just as Gregg needed to see Jeb’s body the night it happened, he needed to see the video to settle his own heart and mind.

My heart hurts for the driver. He is young –closer to Scott’s age than Kaylee’s. I hate that he had to play a part in this tragic accident and that he will have this burden his entire life. It’s awful and it’s wrong. We pray for him all the time.

Gregg and I both felt like we could begin to move forward with the conclusion of the police investigation. However, for me at least, the world is just as dark as it was before. Maybe we’re moving forward in a different way than what I imagined it would be. Every morning, I wake up and hope to find myself in our bedroom in Fort Knox and discover that this entire terrible year has been a dream. But it’s not a dream. It’s real.

It’s wrong and it sucks. But it’s real.

That’s not the end of our story, though. Our family has leaned into each other, holding fast to one another and to God’s promises. We know that He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18) . He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).

Jeb’s death shocked everyone and sent a ripple through our community of friends and family that has astounded us. Our friends and family and church family have circled around us and provided us with so much love and comfort and reminded us over and over again that we are not alone. They have been the hands and feet of 2 Corinthians 1:5 (For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.)

The world is dimmer, but we know that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). So, we will keep clinging to that light and know that one day, we’ll see our precious son again.

35 comments

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    • Jeannie Waters on July 25, 2023 at 18:18
    • Reply

    I’m grateful you have assurance you’ll see him again.

  1. My prayers continue for you, Gregg, and all the family. Also for the young driver.

    • Debbie Shreeve on July 25, 2023 at 22:19
    • Reply

    I have no words of wisdom. I’m thankful for the comfort, grace and strength you find in OUR God. I just want to hug you and to let you know that Jeb’s ripple in the world is even bigger than you can imagine. The pictures and videos you shared of him before that tragic day and since too, brings smiles to my heart. What a special young man. My prayers are with you and your beautiful family.

    • Pam Bennett on July 25, 2023 at 22:33
    • Reply

    Thank you for sharing this. As painful as it is, I and many others have been following your journey through grief and loss and have been upholding you in prayer. Our God is the Great Redeemer, and somehow He is, and will, redeem even this for His glory and our good. May His grace and peace continue to strengthen and uphold you through the days, weeks, months, and even years to come, even as He draws you deeper into Himself and His infinite love for you through this most difficult time. May Ps. 139:16 also comfort your heart. Hugs and prayers.

  2. Hallee, Where there is light, there is God and there is love. I am glad you have the assurance that you will see brighter days and your beautiful boy again. Praise Jesus. How much it must have took for you to share this.
    SHELLEY ZUREK recently posted…Vegas Travel Essentials | Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-onMy Profile

  3. Just here to offer hugs, my friend, and let you know I’m praying for you.

    xoxoxo

  4. Thank you, Hallee, for your grace towards the driver. It reminds me of Jesus, suffering on the cross, and asking God to forgive. When my father was very young, his dad hit and killed a child who ran out from between cars. There was nothing he could have done, yet the guilt drove my grandfather to drink. It destroyed his life and his family’s. I pray the young man involved here hears of your faith and that it drives him to the arms of the one who can give him comfort as well.

    • Jennifer Stanforth on July 31, 2023 at 10:24
    • Reply

    Thank you for sharing this, it has helped my son to know what happened. Your son was very kind to my son Hunter when you all lived here on post. One if his 1st memories about making new friends here was Jeb making him a wolf head out of a paperclip just because he could. Hunter still has it and talks about how easy it was for Jeb to make it. Your son was such a kind soul and genuinely cared about all around him. Our hearts are still so very sad. I pray you and your family will see more light as soon as your hearts will allow.

    • Rhonda Woodward on August 10, 2023 at 18:58
    • Reply

    Hallee,
    Knowing you personally, I know how much you loved and treasured your children. I know from loosing my own child the pain and the darkness. Should you ever need someone to talk to, please contact me. Remember Jeb’s presence on earth and his life meant something to everyone he knew and everything to those who loved him.

    Hugs to you,

    Rhonda

    • Kathy R. on August 11, 2023 at 21:27
    • Reply

    Thank you, Hallee, for sharing this part of the story. Continued love and prayers for you and your family.

    • Thea Ferreira on September 17, 2023 at 05:25
    • Reply

    Hallee, I have no words for dreadful experience of loosing your precious son, Jed. I have been praying for you in the past months, as God brings you and your family to mind. I can only share God’s promise in his word with you, one that I have held onto during the times of trouble in my life, which has helped me to hold on and hang in there. May God continue to hold you in His arms.

    “For I hold you by your right hand— I, the Lord your God.“ ISA 41:13

    • Alicia Haney on December 28, 2023 at 15:12
    • Reply

    God Bless you and your Family my sweet friend. Thank God that you have gotten some very needed answers. Your son had a Beautiful and Very Giving Heart. And yes, one day we will all get to see our loved ones that are no longer with us. My Very most Sincere and Heartfelt Condolences.

    • Jeannie Dotson on January 7, 2024 at 20:43
    • Reply

    ❤️ I pray for you and your family.

    • Barbara Raymond on April 29, 2024 at 19:59
    • Reply

    Still praying for your family.

    • Connie Porter Saunders on April 30, 2024 at 14:08
    • Reply

    I’ve been following your journey since Jeb’s death but I hadn’t seen this post until now. I can’t imagine your grief and I don’t have eloquent words but I DO know that you have the ONE who understands it all. I admire your efforts to clarify the facts and the Christian witness that urges you to make sure that the driver isn’t crucified for these tragic circumstances. Most of all, I am so thankful that you and your family are assured that this separation from Jeb will one day be over. May God bless all of you until you meet again.

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