The parents of a student who died in a car accident have shared how they forgave the man behind the wheel, took him in and named him son.
Elizabeth and Fernando Jimenez were devastated after their daughter Maria died in a car accident in March 2017, but felt compelled to help Nick Tay, the friend who was behind the wheel, when he was prosecuted.
Despite being “consumed with grief,” Elizabeth couldn’t help but sympathize with 25-year-old Nick, whose family lived in Singapore, leaving him to endure the aftermath of his actions alone.
The couple decided that they would forgive him and the three of them would form a remarkably close bond as Nick was prosecuted, sent to prison and then deported after serving his sentence.
In March 2017, Maria Jimenez planned to go to Korea to teach after completing her linguistics studies at Brighton University.
The parents of Maria Jimenez (pictured left) who was killed after her boyfriend Nick Tay (right) crashed her car while traveling at 110 mph have said how forgiving him helped them heal
Fernando and Elizabeth Jimenez described how they were consumed with grief after learning of their daughter’s death in March 2017, but remarkably, she forgave her boyfriend, 25-year-old Nick Tay.
But just days before her 24th birthday, she was killed in a crash after boyfriend Nick Tay flipped the car while traveling at 110 mph.
The couple had been out for dinner with their church music group and Mary had asked Nick to drive her home because she had been drinking.
Nick, 25, was driving at more than double the limit on a two-lane road in south-west London when he crossed two lanes, hit the median strip and flew off onto a shoulder.
Maria was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the Peugeot 206 when Tay, who escaped with minor injuries, crashed in the early hours of March 22.
The crash, which took place on the A3 near Tolworth, killed Maria in what police would later call ‘a completely preventable incident’.
The young woman’s parents, originally from Costa Rica but who moved to the UK in 1995, told the… Mirror how they “were consumed with grief” when they were informed of Mary’s death.
In a memorial fundraiser launched after her death, Fernando reflected on how her childhood and teenage days “were always full of friends, parties, ballet and dance, in which her leadership and love were infamous.”
He described how Maria had ‘a good voice and loved to play the piano, gifts that enabled her to be part of the Hillsong Church Musical Worship Team in Guildford, UK’, where she was to meet Nick.
The couple grieved in their own way with Fernando overcome with anger after finding out what had happened.
Describing his reaction to the Forgiveness Projecthe said, “These revenge fantasies helped me at first, but I also knew I didn’t want to become a bitter man.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s thoughts turned to Nick, wondering if he was okay.
She told the Mirror: ‘Suddenly I thought, ‘Wait a minute, who’s with Nick at the police station?’
Maria Jimenez with her family, brother Joshua (left) and her parents Elizabeth and Fernando
“I knew his family lived in Singapore. He must be desperate.
‘I had never met this man. I know that with the death of their daughter, many would react with furious anger and reproach.
“But all I felt was a deep concern for this young man I didn’t know. I just wanted to be with him.’
With persecution looming, Maria’s parents decided to invite Nick to their home so they could meet him.
Elizabeth recalled Nick entering their living room and approaching Fernando, adding, “Nick hugged him and said ‘please forgive me’. They both fell to the floor in tears as Nick repeated his request over and over and Fernando said, ‘I forgive your son’.’
From then on, Fernando and Elizabeth considered him part of the family.
Maria studied linguistics at Brighton University and planned to go to Korea to teach
Fernando, a missionary, said, “If I had held on to these feelings, they would have destroyed me. Instead, I decided to love him. That’s when he became a son to me.’
The family offered Nick a place to stay because a lawsuit had been filed against him, and Nick lived with them for six weeks before the trial.
Elizabeth described how it was “lovely” to have him there and how they would cook and walk together.
In November 2017, Tay, of Guildford, Surrey, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by driving an uninsured vehicle.
He was jailed for five years and banned from driving for four and a half years.
Elizabeth told the Forgiveness Project: “Going to jail was extremely traumatic for Nick. He felt such deep guilt and remorse. With his family in another country, I started to visit him every week.
“It improved for him when he was transferred to Maidstone Prison and joined the Beating Time choir.
“That made such a difference to him because it meant time with others and space to sing. And crucially, he found a way to express extremely complex and painful feelings.
“I have always known that for this story to end, recovery must take place and be the driving force that guides me to overcome my loss and pain. I don’t want any more casualties.’
Fernando added: ‘Maria was a strong, good character full of life and joy. She was so dear to me and I knew she would want me to forgive Nick if she was here.
“So I took this position to honor Mary. I found great help in knowing that I couldn’t blame God or anyone else. It was an accident.’
Nick was released after three and a half years, but was immediately taken to the airport and deported back to Singapore.
Reflecting on their journey, her father Fernando said, “The true power of forgiveness is in the person who gives it, not just the person who receives it.
“Nothing would bring Maria back. But forgiving Nick helped me heal.’
Elizabeth, added: ‘We’ve always taught the kids, never react with anger, always react with love.
“What we did with Nick is exactly what Maria wanted us to do. Now he is as dear to us as a child can be.’
The family still speaks to Nick every day and says he is now married and expecting his first child. They plan to visit him as soon as Covid restrictions allow.