In a bizarre moment Tuesday that seemed straight out of reality television, President Trump dropped a bombshell on a grieving British family — surprising them with the news that the woman who had killed their son in a car crash was in a nearby room, and then urging the family to meet with her.
“It took your breath away, when he mentioned it the first time,” Tim Dunn, the father of 19-year-old Harry Dunn, said in an interview with CBS This Morning on Wednesday.
Harry Dunn was riding his motorbike when he was fatally struck by Anne Sacoolas, an American woman who was driving her car on the wrong side of the road. She flew back to the United States with her family three weeks later and has not complied with the parents’ pleas to return to the U.K. to face a full police investigation. Sacoolas reportedly is shielded by diplomatic immunity afforded by her husband’s job as a U.S. intelligence officer.
Dunn said Trump asked two or three times if the family would meet with Sacoolas, even though they said they didn’t feel it was right. “It was a bit of pressure, but we stuck to our guns,” Dunn said.
The White House had photographers were standing by, the family said, apparently ready to capture the scene.
Charlotte Charles, the victim’s mother, said in the CBS interview that they’ve always been willing to meet Sacoolas. “We are still willing to meet her. But it needs to be on U.K. soil, you know, and with therapists and mediators. And that’s not just for us. That’s for her as well. She’s traumatized, her children are traumatized. To be thrown into a room together with no prior warning, that’s not good for her mental health. It’s certainly not good for ours.”
Charles and Dunn had gone to the White House to ask that Sacoolas return to face justice in the U.K. Their first surprise of the day was that rather than meeting with some “senior official” as they say they’d been told, they were met by President Trump himself.
Trump told reporters on Wednesday that his meeting with the family “was beautiful in a certain way,” and that he had meet with Dunn’s parents at the request of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“Unfortunately when we had everybody together they decided not to meet,” Trump said. “Perhaps they had lawyers involved by that time, I don’t know exactly. I know the people were lovely, they were very nice, and they were, you know, desperately sad.”
He went on to say that accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road “happens to a lot of people, by the way.”
“You go to Europe and the roads are opposite,” the president said. “And it’s very tough if you’re from the United States you do make that decision to make a right turn where you’re supposed to make a left turn. The roads are opposite.”
Sacoolas had accepted the invitation to the White House with the hope that the family would meet with her, and was disappointed when they didn’t, according to her attorney Amy Jeffress.
Sacoolas fully admits to having been driving on the wrong side of the road when she collided with Dunn, her attorney says.
“Anne is devastated by this tragic accident,” according to the statement. “No loss compares to the death of a child and Anne extends her deepest sympathy to Harry Dunn’s family.”
During the White House meeting, national security advisor Robert O’Brien told the family that Sacoolas is not coming back to Britain, according to family spokesman Radd Seiger.
“The family feels a little ambushed, to say the least,” Seiger said in a BBC interview. “And disappointed that they made the effort to go all the way down there … with really no progress towards achieving the closure that they’re so desperately seeking.”
At the end of their meeting, Dunn’s mother says Trump took her by the hand.
“I said to him, ‘Look, you need to see that if this was your son, surely you’d be doing the same thing, you’d be trying to get justice for him.’ And he agreed with me and said, ‘Yes, yes I would,’ ” Charles told Good Morning Britain. “And I said, ‘So please please just do the right thing, please just try.’ And he squeezed my hand and said he said that he would … try to look at this from another angle.”
But she says she doesn’t know what he meant by that. “If I’m totally honest, I don’t hold out too much hope that she’s going to be returned to us.”