Marion Collins was the first person to welcome Dawn Gratton to Kilgore more than two decades ago.
At 8 years-old, Gratton immediately found a big-sister in her 13-year-old neighbor, sparking a lasting friendship marked by Collins' selflessness, her generosity, her unfailing kindness.
Gratton is in mourning this week, in shock like many others in Sabine, Kilgore and elsewhere at their friend's tragic death in a three-vehicle collision Monday on FM-3053 in Gregg County. The 37-year-old woman's 5-year-old daughter was in serious condition after the crash and another driver was injured in the wreck about three miles south of Liberty City.
Collins, a mother of two, worked as a paraprofessional at Arp Junior High and members of that community, too, are reeling at the loss.
“She was the sweetest, kindest person you would ever meet,” Gratton said Tuesday. “I don't know that I've ever heard her say a negative thing about anyone.”
According to Staff Sgt. Jean Dark with the Texas Department of Public Safety, troopers' preliminary crash investigation revealed a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado driven by 31-year-old Jason Hart of Tyler was southbound on 3053 as Collins' 2015 Honda Accord was traveling north about 5:30 p.m. Monday.
“For an unknown reason, the vehicles collided front left to front left in the middle of the roadway,” Dark reported. “Harts’ vehicle rolled over, coming to rest on its top in the middle of the roadway facing east. Collins’ vehicle went off the roadway to the east into the barditch.”
At the same, Luciano Soto-Hernandez of Jacksonville, 38, was traveling south in a 2010 Chevrolet Silverado, towing a flatbed trailer, approaching Collins' vehicle.
“The rolling vehicle struck the right passenger side of the Chevrolet,” Dark noted.
Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Talyna Carlson pronounced Collins' death at the scene. Collins' passenger, her 5-year-old daughter, was initially transported to ETMC-Tyler in serious condition then moved to Children's Medical Center of Dallas where she underwent surgery Tuesday to repair broken bones.
“Hart was transported to Good Shepherd-Longview in serious condition. Soto-Hernandez and his passengers were uninjured,” Dark reported. No further information on Hart's condition was available at presstime. “The crash continues to be under investigation.”
A member of First Baptist Church in Liberty City, Collins was “a great mom,” Gratton said, always smiling, genuinely caring for those around her.
“It's hard to find words right now. It hard to sum up somebody in words,” her longtime friend added. Gratton said her thoughts and prayers are with the Collins' husband, children, family members and friends. “She was selfless. She was the kind of person who would have done anything for anyone.”
Funeral services for Collins are pending with Rader Funeral Home of Kilgore.