Quest for Justice Instead Leads to Forgiveness

WPST-TV 10News, Tampa, FL, USA  Twenty years ago this month, Bruce Murakami pulled up to a burning car on Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa to offer any assistance he could. To his horror, Murakami soon discovered that his wife, Cindy, and their 11-year-old daughter Chelsea, were inside the burning minivan. They both died before he or anyone else was able to rescue them.
At first, Murakami wanted the man responsible for this wife and daughter’s deaths to pay. After all, the driver of the car that ran into his wife’s van, Justin Cabezas, was speeding at more than 90 mph at impact.
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“I was angry, livid. . .” Murakami admitted. “I said to myself, ‘Let me find the punk, I’m gonna take care of him.’” 

Bruce Murakami, left, and Justin Cabezas encouraged morning commuters to slow down on Kamehameha Highway in Kane’ohe, Hawaii.

When Cabezas was not initially charged with causing the crash, Murakami’s life went into a tailspin of depression.

“I was a walking zombie. I sold my business, sat on the beach every day. I put my Bible down. I didn’t want anything to do with God. Nothing”

Three years later, Cabezas was finally charged with 2 counts of vehicular manslaughter. But something happened when Murakami finally saw Cabezas in court. He wasn’t the monster Murakami had envisioned. That’s when this father’s fight for justice turned into a father’s fight to forgive.

“I started preaching to myself on forgiveness. Even though I never met this kid, I started forgiving him for what he did,” Murakami says. “After we met, I knew he was suffering as much as I was.”

Cabezas was facing up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Murakami shocked the court, however, by asking the judge not to send Cabezas to jail.
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“If he goes to prison for 30 years, everyone’s going to forget about him. Everyone’s going to forget about Cindy and Chelsea,” Murakami said to the judge. “What if he and I went out to schools and talked to young people?”

With the court’s consent, the two men went to hundreds of schools across the country, speaking to more than a half-million kids about the dangers of speeding. But Murakami also used those presentations to help kids understand that even after tragic mistakes, they too could find redemption like Cabezas.

“I didn’t want to waste his life. He came from a good family. We’ve all made mistakes,” Murakami added.

Murakami and Cabezas also founded a not-for-profit organization called Safe Teen Driver that includes a unique driver education program offered free to teens who learn by driving actual professional go-karts on a professional track while practicing skills that could save their lives. Parents are required to participate and learn the importance of their role in developing a safe teen driver.

Cabezas went on to become a successful real estate agent in Texas before dying of cancer last summer. Murakami went to the funeral and spoke from the pulpit about the importance of forgiveness.


Read the full story: Tampa man’s quest for justice instead becomes lesson in forgiveness

Watch a short video from WPST-TV 10News, Tampa, FL about Bruce Murakami’s life-changing decision to forgive.


 

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