Dateline   |  February 11, 2013

'Fallen', Part 2

The pastor’s wife dies and he gives his account of the accident.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> she'd always been there for them, now betty 's mom and most of her eight brothers and sisters had gathered at her bedside. she looked all tubes, bandages and swollen bruising.

>> we were all in shock. it was just horrible.

>> betty 's youngest sister tina was at her bedside in intensive care . just two weeks before they'd celebrated the birthday they shared. they said their good-byes after a nice lunch.

>> do you remember what the last words were?

>> that we have to make sure that we keep doing this every year on our birthday and -- that she loves us. joo b

>> betty 's only son nate got to the hospital as fast as he could bridging a photo of his mom in happier times. mother, son and the grandson she doted on.

>> she looked so happy with all of us there together on the couch, and i placed that in her hand to hold.

>> as you touched her hand, her fingers, were you getting anything back?

>> no. as i put the picture in her hand i whispered in her ear that i loved her, and i hoped she could hear me.

>> a solemn vigil began. a life ebbing away amid intensive care machinery.

>> how were you comforting each other there?

>> hugging, crying together and holding on to each other, saying some prayers.

>> at the hospital, betty 's husband of seven years pastor a.b. schirmer seemed to the family at times oddly distant at other, overly genial and they thought he was still in shock after all he had walked away virtually unscathed that left his wife on life support .

>> no crying, no praying or anything like that.

>> but a.b.'s daughter from his first marriage remembers his father was beside himself with grief.

>> he was upset. he was crying. i saw him at her bedside sobbing, sobbing with one of betty 's sisters. sobbing, not my bets.

>> he'd been doing about 50 in the pt cruiser when the accident happened. a deer had darted out into the road and he swerved into the guardrail. betty slammed into the windshield. an arriving officer noticed the air bag his deployed, but a.b. told her sister betty warrant wearing her seat belt .

>> what do you mean she didn't have her seat belt on? she always wears her seat belt . she would never be without a seat belt .

>> she had made the fateful decision to unbuckle her belt the pastor told arriving officers.

>> less than 24 hours after she'd been rushed to the hospital she died. nate 's mother was gone. the woman who built sand castles with him, who taught him how to ride his bike. nate had loved his mother so much.

>> i was overwhelmed with grief, crying and i was putting my head on her chest hoping to hear something, but there was nothing there.

>> given the pastor's account of her relatively high-speed crash and the arriving officer's write-up of the wreck, the coroner ruled betty 's death, there would be no autopsy. his mother wanted to be cremated.

>> she was cremated the next day. very quick.

>> a decision that surprised her family, but the decision was properly the spouse's. at the funeral director's a.b. selected a container for her ashes that --

>> he'd picked out an urn with the deer on it.

>> a deer that caused the car accident .

>> nate reminded his mother loved nature. a.b. said she always enjoyed seeing the deer. his administrative assistant of the past two years, cindy mustante helped him take care of the funeral arrangements. her daughter samantha who was 16 at the time remembers it well.

>> that morning of the service i actually went over early and was helping her with, you know, the last-minute details.

>> the church was packed as people rose to eulogize the beloved betty , but nothing was heard that day from the pastor a.b. schirmer. he sat in the pews and listened. he'd presided over so many funeral, but told friends that this was one he couldn't bear to speak at. in the receiving line, the preacher stood next to his stepson nate as the funeral goers each paused briefly to offer their condolences, and he said nate , i'd like to introduce you to my church secretary and this is cindy and he said to me. we have a little inside joke between us at the church here and he said, i go by a.b. and she is known as c.d., and then he said a, b, c, d and they kind of chuckled together about it.

>> do you think that was a cozy jokey thing? i just thought that was kind of odd at the time.

>> while nate wondered about the relationship between the pastor and his assistant, cindy 's daughter had some questions of her own. she'd noticed her parents drifting apart in the months before the accident.

>> did your mom seem different, saa manninga?

>> yes. definitely. she seemed much more different from my dad.

>> her father joe who struggled with alcohol had steadied himself on the foundation of the church. a skilled cabinetmaker he even made a desk for the pastor's office.

>> was it fansy?

>> very, very beautiful. it was cherry and had three crosses on the front.

>> but now he was back hitting the bottle.

>> so his demons were after him again, huh?

>> yeah.

>> was the growing distance between cindy and her husband joe the reason why she and her boss, the reverend a.b. schirmer seemed to spend so much more time together?

>> she needed somebody to talk to, you know? what better than your pastor?

>> but samantha would soon wonder whether the pastor's ministering was not so much godly as up close and personal.

>>> coming up -- samantha plays teenage detective and is surprised by what she finds.

>> i was looking through my mom's phone and i found text messages.

>> things like --

>> i love you. i can't wait to see you. you looked really nice today, and i'm sorry, that isn't normal.

>> when "dateline" continues. it's back