Paulette Toussant, a single mom, and her two daughters had survived the floods of Hurricane Katrina and successfully built a new life in Fort Mill.
But Friday morning while driving down Interstate 85 to spend the holidays with family in New Orleans, Paulette, 44, and one of her daughters, Veronica Toussant, 19, were killed in a head-on crash near Gaffney.
They were driving south on I-85 in their Chevy Malibu when a 1997 Chevy Camaro heading north crossed the median and struck them, according to the highway patrol. Two Gaffney brothers in the Camaro were taken to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, where Roy Anthony Evans, 20, remained in serious condition Sunday night. His brother, Raymond Alexander Evans, 18, had been discharged, a hospital spokesman said.
The crash is still under investigation and no charges have been filed, highway patrol Sgt. Kelley Hughes said Sunday.
The wreck has left friends asking why and remembering the family's spirit to survive.
Fort Mill's Kim Hartrum, who had posted her name as a volunteer online during the Katrina disaster, remembers picking them up when they arrived with other Katrina refugees at the Charlotte Coliseum.
"I imagined picking up broken people," she said, "but they jumped right in. They were so happy and relieved to have made it. I want to know why. Why did they survive all that, stay strong, do what they were supposed to do, and this was the outcome?"
The mother and two girls had been trapped in their flooded home during Hurricane Katrina but survived by taking a boat to an overpass, where a helicopter airlifted them to higher ground in New Orleans. They and others were flown to Charlotte.
Frankie Jean Cope, a neighbor who introduced the Toussants to First Baptist Church of Fort Mill, recalls her friend Paulette walked around to different stores the very day she arrived.
"She was putting in applications the day they got here," she said.
Paulette got a job at Bi-Lo.
"She was a hugger," Cope said. "If you walked into the deli at Bi-Lo or saw her at church, she would give you a hug. Everybody loved her."
The family considered it a blessing that they had come to Fort Mill. First Baptist Rev. Benny Wade was helping Veronica get financial aid to attend York Tech next semester.
"They said it was a blessing because Veronica was going to go to college here, and she couldn't have there," Cope recalled.
Veronica graduated Fort Mill High in 2006. Her sister, Allison, who was not in the car Friday, graduated this past spring. Both Veronica and her mom worked in food services at the church as well as in the Fort Mill school district, Paulette at Gold Hill Middle and Veronica at Fort Mill High, Wade said.
The church adopted them, helping them get a car and permanent lodging.
The Toussants and Copes had celebrated an early Christmas a weekend ago. But the Toussants stopped by the Copes to socialize Thursday evening before they left for New Orleans. Both had a cold, Cope recalled, but planned to get up at 4 a.m. to arrive in New Orleans in good time.
Allison, 18, had decided not to make the trip to New Orleans but was to fly instead to Arizona on Sunday to visit a friend. She was staying with the Hartrums on Sunday.
"I was close to both of them," Allison said. "My mom was just the most outgoing person ever. She just knew and loved everybody. My sister was naive and vulnerable. She was the most honest person. She was a nice, innocent girl. I just am missing them."
The family will receive friends from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday in the Chapel of First Baptist Church, where the funeral will be held at 2 p.m.
The family had no insurance, Hartrum said. Memorials may be made in memory of the Toussants to Wolfe Funeral Home, P.O. Box 190, Fort Mill, SC 29716.