As a new mother of twins, Natalie Owens shared this 2006 daydream on her MySpace page:
“What will the boys look like when they grow up? How tall are they gonna be? Will the personalities that I know now still exist when they are like 20? Another good question is, what will I look like in 20 years?"
Those questions will never be answered as the Lawrenceville woman, her husband and two of her three children were killed Thursday in a tragedy as unfair as any, with nearly an entire Georgia family lost in a North Carolina traffic accident.
On a wet U.S. 64, their Jeep Cherokee hit standing water, went out of control, struck some trees and flipped into a roadside canal 145 miles east of Raleigh. Horrified relatives traveling in an accompanying vehicle witnessed the accident and dove into the water trying to save them. Daniel Alvarez, 27, Owens, 26, and their daughter, Ariela, 1, died at the scene. One of the twins, Zacharia, 3, died after he was taken to a hospital. The other twin, Ezekiel, was critically injured, according to a family member.
Taken in an instant were doting, hard-working parents returning from an annual family gathering in North Carolina, characterized as a couple who did everything the right way. Owens worked for Neiman Marcus Last Call at Discover Mills; Alvarez was an employee for Home Depot. They had been married seven years.
"I don't think I can cry anymore; I am numb," said Jean Barker, 73, a relative in Miami. "They are beautiful people, deeply religious, they have no problems. They don't smoke, don’t drink, they don’t party. They are just people that read the bible religiously."
Alvarez had been a freight handler for Home Depot in Duluth since 2007, an employee with the hardware chain since 2005. Grief counselors were at the store on Friday, Home Depot spokesman Craig Fishel said. Alvarez was quiet, shy and studious, often poring through encyclopedias, relatives said.
Owens, nicknamed "Naty," attended Florida International University, according to her MySpace page. She listed the Bible as one of her favorite books, adhering to its history lessons. Friends said she had a gentle presence.
“She was one of the coolest people I’ve ever known," said Angela Beck, a former Neiman Marcus co-worker.
Beck, who hadn't seen Owens in a year since Beck left the company, described her friend's twins as delightful chatterboxes. She learned of the tragedy through other employees.
“It makes me really upset and I remember that you have to live life to the fullest,” Beck said. “I know that’s how her personality was; she knew that every day was sacred.”
Troopers at the accident scene said the worn condition of the Jeep’s tires might have played a role in the crash and that the victims appeared to have died from drowning, according to WITN-TV in Washington, N.C. Authorities also were investigating whether excessive speed was involved.
Owens wore a seat belt and the three children were in child restraints, but it was unclear whether Alvarez, the driver, wore a seat belt, First Sgt. Steve Greene of the North Carolina Highway Patrol said.
The family encountered a rainstorm that stretched all the way to Maine when their Jeep went off the right side of the highway outside Creswell, N.C. The canal was filled with several feet of water, said Patty McQuillan, North Carolina public safety department spokeswoman.
Quintin Alvarez, Daniel's brother, was one of those who went into the water in a frantic rescue attempt. He called Barker, his mother-in-law, after it was clear that the worst kind of tragedy had taken place.
"He said, ‘My brother is gone, my baby brother is gone,'" Barker said.
Quintin Alvarez and other family members were still in North Carolina on Friday holding vigil around the surviving twin boy. Relatives said they were praying for his recovery, determined to give him a home, while planning funeral services for the youngster's parents and siblings.
Said Roselyn Threats, another family member, "We will all take care of Ezekial."
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