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.