BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Thirteen year-old Caleb Smith played many roles in his young life: son, grandson, brother, best friend and a means of support, love, faith and forgiveness for many that knew him. It was his care for others, and his big heart, which led to the situation that took his life a year ago, according to his father Scott Smith.
Caleb’s family spoke of his life, and how much he meant to them, on Monday, during and after the sentencing hearing in Brunswick County Superior Court for 19-year-old Devin Harris, who was behind the wheel on the night Caleb died, Feb. 10, 2016.
Though the case ended with a guilty plea, Caleb’s father, Scott Smith – a pastor in Carolina Shores – said the past year has been the worst year of his family’s life.
“As a parent, it is your worst nightmare,” Scott Smith said. “There has been a hole and a void left in our life that would never be filled.”
“We want him to be remembered as a child that had a big heart, and a child that thought more of other’s than he did of himself,” Scott Smith said. “And that’s exactly what put him in that situation that night … that caused him to lose his life. He was in essence trying to help others and reaching out to try to help someone that he saw needed help.”
Caleb extended his “grace” to Devin Harris, Scott Smith said. Caleb convinced both Scott Smith and his mother, Lisa Smith, to take the teen into their home temporarily. Harris, who reportedly had been kicked out of his home by his mother, had stayed with the Smith family to get back on his feet.
Scott Smith said they bought Harris Christmas gifts, food, took him places, and even bought Harris a car to use to get to work. Though under strict rules in the Smith home, Scott Smith said Harris took advantage of the family’s trust, and ultimately had to be dismissed from the home.
According to Assistant District Attorney Jamie Turnage, it was not long after that, when Harris and his younger brother, convinced the 13-year-old Caleb to go out joyriding in the early morning hours of Feb. 10, 2016. Harris was traveling at about 70 mph on Bridgers Road in Shallotte — more than twice the posted speed limit – in the minutes before the vehicle struck a concrete bridge and sunk into Mulberry Creek. The impact was to the passenger side of the vehicle; the same side where Caleb sat.
Caleb died at the scene.
Scott Smith said they have forgiven Harris, as Caleb would have done.
Since the length of Harris’ sentence is about the same as the time he has already spent in jail awaiting trial, he will be released from jail Monday, when he will begin serving five-years of probation. But Scott Smith said there is no sentence that could bring Caleb back to his family. For them, statements made in court on Monday were not just about the sentence, it was about Caleb’s life and the impact he made on others.
Caleb lived by his faith very outwardly, Scott Smith said, words which were echoed by several of Caleb’s family members during their own statements to both the court, and later, after the Monday morning plea hearing.
Eight people spoke on Caleb’s behalf in court, sometimes laughing while reminiscing, but mostly sharing their pain from his loss.
Of those who had a voice in the court Monday, was Caleb’s 8-year-old sister, Hannah-Ruth. With her father by her side, she sat before the judge as her father read her letter to the court.
“I still sit here today and think about him. I still cry sometimes. But I know he is in a better place,” Hannah-Ruth wrote in her letter. “Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night because I miss him so much. I will always love my brother and he will always be in my heart.”
Harris was ordered, as part of his plea agreement, to write each member of the Smith family a separate letter. The Smith family said Monday afternoon that they have yet to read the letters.
After court, Caleb’s family and friends, dressed in blue, orange and green T-shirts adorned with Caleb’s picture, released balloons in front of the courthouse, in his memory.
“Caleb was a tender-hearted, loving, strong-faithed young man,” Scott Smith said. “My profession is a minister, but we always joked around at our house that Caleb was our evangelist, I was just a preacher.”