February 17, 2013

Support showered on former Arlington family after tragedy

The mother was killed in an auto accident, and the daughter was gravely injured.

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When Steve and Katy Nevil and their two children piled into the car Nov. 16, they were excited about coming home for Thanksgiving and the chance to see relatives and old friends in Arlington and Burleson.

The family had moved to Franklin, Tenn., a Nashville suburb, in July 2011 after Steve Nevil was promoted to regional sales manager for a medical equipment supplier. Rather than drive straight through, the couple and their children -- Lauren, 12, and Will, 9 -- planned to stay the night in Texarkana and go the rest of the way the next day.

They never made it. Their lives were shattered a half-hour from the Texas state line on a dark stretch of Interstate 30 near Hope, Ark., when a driver suspected of being drunk clipped their car, sending it crashing into the massive trees that line the highway.

The passenger side was crushed. Katy Nevil, 38, a 1992 graduate of Lamar High School, died at the scene. Lauren, gravely injured, was airlifted to a hospital in Shreveport.

Often, attention to such a tragedy might taper off quickly. But the Nevils' two communities -- the new one in Tennessee and the old one in North Texas -- refuse to allow that to happen. And a Facebook page started by Steve Nevil to keep supporters in the loop about Lauren's progress has attracted almost 176,000 followers.

Some might find that level of attention, and the fundraisers it has helped drive, astounding. But to Steve Nevil, 41, it's easily explained.

His wife, a devout Christian, had a heart filled with generosity and a smile that could brighten the darkest day, he said.

"Katy always, always, always, without question, always helped whoever she could," he said. "She relentlessly cared for other people. I truly think that passion she had in her heart is being reciprocated."

A father's duties

As if losing his wife of 14 years wasn't enough, Steve Nevil has had to manage the care of his severely maimed daughter and stay strong for his son. Lauren, who was transferred to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth in early December, suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken femur, three broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a mangled foot that cost her four toes.

Within a few days of the wreck, he found a kindred spirit in Kay Wade, whose daughter Kaitlyn was the same age as Lauren when she suffered a similar brain injury in a wreck with a drunken driver May 18, 2007. Kaitlyn Wade spent two months in a coma and six months at Cook Children's before she could return home.

In a coincidence, the Wades live two doors down from Katy Nevil's father.

"Steve told me on the phone what was going on with Lauren and talked about how he wanted to bring her back here," Kay Wade said Friday. "I told him how pleased we were with Cook and about our experiences there."

Support for the family poured in from across the country. In December, simultaneous walks were held in Dallas-Fort Worth and Franklin, where the family had quickly endeared itself to the community.

"You instantly felt like you'd known them your entire life," Mark Moorman, a friend of the family, told Nashville's ABC television affiliate. "They were very welcoming, warm, loving people."

Last month, a fundraiser called Lolo Palooza, drawn from Lauren's nickname, drew about 550 people to the Grease Monkey in Arlington. The event raised just over $24,000, said organizer MK Davis, who was a junior high school classmate of Steve Nevil's.

"A group of friends started a message on Facebook right after the accident happened and it wasn't until we attended Katy's funeral that we talked about wanting to do more," she said. "We talked about several different ideas like community garage sales or a fishing tournament, but then I suggested, 'Let's do a benefit.' With the help of a good number of friends we put together Lolo Palooza.

"I hope to keep this going for years to come because Lauren will need help for a long period of time to heal with her injuries."

'Incredibly uplifted'

Katy Nevil's brother, Jimmy Brimson, said the family is grateful for the support.

"I can tell you that Steve is, as we all are, incredibly uplifted and amazed by the fact that so many communities have come together for such a good and personal cause," Brimson said. "It's mind-blowing to see all of the cards and notes from people not just in the U.S. but from all over the world. It's easy to be cynical in today's world, but this outpouring of love, prayers and support makes you realize that there are still a whole lot of good people in this world."

To keep friends and loved ones in two states apprised of Lauren's recovery, Steve Nevil, who graduated from Sam Houston High School and the University of Texas at Arlington, started a Facebook page, Praying for the Nevil's. He posts updates on behalf of his daughter until she has recovered enough to tell her own story.

Among its nearly 179,000 "likes" as of Sunday were people in seven countries, Steve said.

"I wanted to bring people inside Lauren's hospital room so that they can see the effect that their prayers and support are having," he said.

He added that he finds it ironic that he is doing so much writing because his wife -- an English major at Texas A&M who was a certified teacher -- was always the one he asked to handle business or personal correspondence.

Through photos, videos and status updates, followers have kept up with the girl's surgeries and treatments, watched her sip a Sonic slushie, saw her first smiles since the accident and her venture outside for much-needed fresh air. Hundreds have posted their own comments of well-wishes and encouragement.

The large number of "likes" isn't all that surprising, said Tracy Everbach, an associate professor of journalism at the University of North Texas who watches social media trends.

"I don't think it is really that unusual," she said. "My impression is that many of the people who have 'liked' this page and follow it can relate to this family and imagine themselves in their tragic situation. This also is an example of how social media can go viral."

Uncertain prognosis

Kay Wade said she was amazed to see and hear Lauren speak when she and Kaitlyn Wade visited her.

"It was incredible," Wade said. "Kaitlyn didn't do that. She didn't know how to talk. It took her a month just to wake up."

Though Lauren has made great strides since the accident, her long-term prognosis is uncertain, Steve Nevil said.

"When you compare where she is now with where they thought she would be, it's positive," he said. "But she has a long way to go. I used to pray for a full recovery. Now I pray for FRMFT full recovery minus four toes."

Although he has found his religious faith shaken at times, all it takes is the memory of his wife to set him back on track.

"When I'm alone, it's easy to ask, 'Why me?'" he said. "But I know that's not how Katy would see it."

Along with all the hours spent in the hospital, he has made sure to nurture Will through the difficult period.

"I don't want him to grow up too fast," Steve said.

Sometimes it seems that his young son, who adores his sister, is helping him along, too.

At one point not long after the tragedy, Steve took Will to the park so that they could talk and grieve together.

"He looked at me and said, 'Dad, it's OK if you cry.'"

Patrick M. Walker, 682-232-4674

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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