EDMOND - For a brief moment, the laughter and happy remembrances of a shining young life ended too soon gave way to painful reality.
Don Norton's voice cracked and he choked into tears as he recalled two Edmond police officers knocking on his door late Friday.
His daughter, Nancy Ann Norton, 21, had not made it home from visiting a friend. And he and his wife, Melinda Norton, feared their worst nightmare - every parent's worst nightmare - was about to be realized.
Still, despite Nancy's empty bed, they held out a slight hope even as they endured an eternity between opening the door and hearing the officers' trembling voices.
"At that point, you don't know what, you're hoping your dog got out and got run over, you know," Don Norton recalled this week on the night before his daughter's funeral.
But when Sgt. Sherry Russi and officer Chris Budde asked to come inside, the Nortons knew, by the looks on their faces, that the news was bad.
"Those officers, they've got the toughest job going," Don Norton said as he sat in his kitchen, grabbing a quick bite to eat, as a crowd of friends and family members reminisced in the living room.
"She (Russi) was so sweet ... it was the hardest thing she'd ever done.
"They came inside and she took a deep breath and said, 'Mr. Norton, do you have a daughter, Nancy Ann Norton? ' Right there, you know the rest of it, but she has to say the rest of it. 'I'm sorry, Mr. Norton, your daughter was in a bad accident and she didn't make it. ' " "What are you telling me? " he recalled gasping as he lightly wrapped his hands around Russi's shoulders. "What are you telling me? " Melinda Norton stretched her left arm around her husband and clenched his left shoulder as he briefly lost his composure.
Nancy also left behind a brother, Jay Norton, a student at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
The tragedy happened at 11:42 p.m. Friday when Nancy's station wagon was broadsided on Sooner Road at Covell Road by a car that ran a stop sign. Based on skid marks, police estimated the other car's speed at 60 mph at the time of impact.
Investigators said she appeared to die instantly as her vehicle was sliced nearly in half and pinned between the other car and a utility pole. By the time police arrived, the other driver had fled.
After a 36-hour search, a 22-year-old Edmond man who witnesses told police had just left a bar before the crash turned himself in at the Edmond police station. Paul Ryan Tharp, 22, was booked into county jail after being treated for facial injuries at Edmond Regional Medical Center.
Tharp was arrested on complaints of leaving the scene of a fatality accident, driving under suspension and driving without insurance. Police also are investigating the case as a possible negligent homicide and probing the possibility of alcohol being a contributing factor, investigating officer John Zeigler said Tuesday.
While saying the law should take its course, the Nortons voiced no anger toward the driver who killed their daughter.
"With Nancy, she was always happy, always made everybody feel good," her mother said. "She was the little counselor if anybody had a problem. And we really feel like the Lord used this man as an instrument to take her home. " As a result of the crash, the parents said they hope to spread awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Although Tharp was not under the influence when he came to the police station, Melinda Norton said police told them witnesses reported seeing him falling over a table and chairs before he left a bar before the crash.
Don Norton said the owners and employees of establishments that sell alcohol should be liable when a drunken person becomes a potential killer.
"It gets kind of touchy because the person becomes violent in that state," he said. "But at some point, before that person gets behind that loaded gun, police ought to be called. " But rather than lash out at the circumstances, the Nortons concentrated on celebrating Nancy's life in the wake of her passing.
The 1990 Edmond Memorial High School graduate was born and lived her entire life in Edmond, and had raised two Arabian horses, Abby and Sparky, since the fourth grade. She had worked at Childtime Child Care, 1201 W 15, for three years and was a leader of the youth group at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond.
Her mother recalled her as a free spirit and caring individual who reached out to people, be they the children at the day-care center, the students at church, or the homeless street people she encountered in Dallas.
Nancy had traveled to Dallas for three consecutive summers to feed the homeless in a project called "Stewpot. " She also had gone with the church to Mexico twice to assist those plagued by poverty.
"The other kids that went (to Dallas) would go one summer and come home and it was like, they had done it ... (But Nancy kept going back because) she saw a real need," Melinda Norton said.
Shelby Finney, who graduated a year after Nancy, remembered the impact Nancy had on people's lives by telling a story about her experience with one homeless man in Dallas.
After meeting Nancy one summer, the man remembered her smiling face and willingness to talk with him when she returned the next year. He showed his appreciation by giving Nancy a ring or necklace, one of the last things he owned, Finney said.
Likewise, one of Nancy's last possessions, a videotape made at Six Flags over Texas last week, has become a priceless treasure for her family.
The tape, which shows a dancing Nancy grooving with co-workers to the beat of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," was a final gift to her parents - and a lasting memory for her family and friends.
"I never imagined a week ago what this tape would mean," her mother said. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 544068