Family remembers couple killed in Wednesday’s wreck

Published 12:08 am Friday, October 11, 2013

submitted photo — Carolyn and Welton Smith Jr., above, were killed Wednesday night in a three-car crash in Ridgecrest.

submitted photo — Carolyn and Welton Smith Jr., above, were killed Wednesday night in a three-car crash in Ridgecrest.

FERRIDAY — Carolyn and Welton Smith Jr. had two main priorities in their lives: God and family.

“They were two of the best people you would ever want to meet,” said the Smiths’ son, Bruce Smith, Thursday. “Good, Christian people. They just enjoyed life.”

Bruce, his sister, Terri Morris, and other family members gathered at Morris’ house on Lake Concordia Thursday night to reminisce about the Smiths, who were killed in a three-car collision in Ridgecrest Wednesday night.

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Her parents, Morris said, were servants of the Lord.

“It was inevitable that anytime you got around my daddy, he was going to talk about the Lord,” she said. “That was the main thing in Mamma and Daddy’s life. They had servants’ hearts.

The Smiths were married for 57 years and met, Morris said, at an old-fashioned drive-in in Natchez when they were in their early 20s.

“Mamma and her four girlfriends drove up … and Daddy walked up and looked in the car and looked at Mamma and said ‘You. I pick you. I want you to get out so I can talk to you.’ And the next thing you know, they’re going on a date.”

Carolyn,77, worked as the secretary at Vidalia Upper Elementary School until she retired about 15 years ago, Morris said. Welton, 80, was a U.S. Army veteran and worked at International Paper Co. until his retirement.

The Smiths lived on Lake Concordia for more than 40 years. They lived just four houses down from Morris.

“We had coffee every day,” Morris said. “Mamma made the best coffee around. We would just sit and visit. We have always been a close family.”

The Smiths’ granddaughter Victoria Butt was especially close to her Mamaw.

“She was my best friend,” Butt said. “I could talk to her about anything.”

Morris said her parents were easy to talk to, especially when she needed a caring listener.

“They were loving, nonjudgmental people that you could talk to,” she said. “I talked to Mamma about everything.”

The Smiths had in the past been motorcycle aficionados and took trips to just about every state in the country, Morris said.

Carolyn was an avid fisherwoman.

“She practiced catch and release,” Bruce said. “She caught a bunch, but never skinned one of them. I used to joke with her that she probably had more fish around that pier that had holes in their mouths than didn’t.”

Welton enjoyed hunting, especially with his grandson Jasen Cooper.

Cooper and his grandfather killed their two biggest bucks on a hunting trip last year for Welton’s 80th birthday. The family also threw a surprise party to celebrate Welton’s birthday.

Cooper said his family is devastated by the loss of his grandparents, but said he knows they are in Heaven together.

“I know all this has to be the Lord’s will,” Cooper said. “They’re together. They walked right into Heaven together.”

Welton was a man that put God first and was looked up to by those who knew him, Cooper said.

“If I lived my whole life and filled half of one of his shoes, I would feel like I had done something,” Jason said.

The Smiths took in their grandson, Brad Smith, when he was 8, a deed for which Brad says he will be eternally grateful.

But the act is not surprising to any of the family that the Smiths leave behind. The Lord’s light always shined through their hearts, Morris said.

“That is my parent’s legacy,” she said. “They taught us how to live good lives and be good people.”

Louisiana State Police Spokesman Scott Moreau said Carolyn was driving a 2006 Chevrolet pickup truck with her husband in the car when she reportedly failed to yield when entering Louisiana 84.

That caused, Moreau said, two eastbound cars to collide with the Smiths’ truck, which caught fire after the accident.

The cars were driven by Robert Perry, 25, of Ridgecrest, and Clifford E. Payne Jr., 43, of Vidalia.

The family of the Smiths disputes that Carolyn’s failure to yield caused the crash. Family members say that reports from witnesses of the wreck indicate the two other men involved in the wreck were drag racing when they collided with the Smiths.

Moreau could not confirm the reports of drag racing Thursday. He said it would take at least a month for the final police report to be completed.

Payne Jr. was not wearing his seat belt and received moderate injuries, Moreau said.  He was taken to Riverland Medical Center for treatment.

Perry and his passenger, Galen L. Jefferson, 31, of Ferriday, were not wearing their seat belts, Moreau said, and received moderate injuries.  Both were taken to Natchez Regional Medical Center for treatment.

Routine toxicology tests are pending, and the crash remains under investigation.