Chapel Hill, N.C. — Regina Merritt was still in bed when she received a call Friday morning about her sister and brother-in-law being involved in a bus crash in Capron, Va., but she had no idea how serious it was.
After trying their cellphones and getting no answer, she called a family friend who'd also been trying to find out more about the wreck.
"She told me the bus driver was still in his seat belt but that one man had died," Merritt said Wednesday from her Chapel Hill home. "I knew then that it was my brother-in-law, because he was the only male on the bus."
Doval Emmanuel Watson, 58, known to friends and family as "D," and his wife, Theresa, were on their way to Hampton, Va., with six students, ages 13 to 17.
Around 7 a.m., authorities said, the bus driver ran off the right side of U.S. Highway 58, about 140 miles northeast of Chapel Hill, and overturned in a ditch.
The couple was thrown from the bus. D died, and Theresa was seriously injured, requiring a three-day stay in a Norfolk hospital before her release Monday.
"She's still in a lot of pain," Merritt said. "She's very heartbroken. You can look at her sometimes, and I know she's re-living it."
D's death was the seventh that the close-knit family – most of whom who still live on the family land in Chapel Hill – has endured this year, but Merritt said her brother-in-law's has taken the greatest toll.
"It just seems so surreal. Not D? He's one of those people you never want to die," she said. "I know that sounds a little silly, but he's one of those people you want to be around all the time, because he's going to make sure you're happy."
"Everything was about life when it came to D: Just live and be happy. Enjoy life," she added.
He and his wife also loved helping others, dedicating their lives to volunteering, specifically helping children go to college. Both worked with the Young People Institute in Orange County.
A Hampton University alumnus, D was chaperoning with his wife on their eighth trip Friday to the school's annual Open House Day. Their philosophy: Any child is capable of college.
"I think D would say, 'I died doing what I love to do – helping people,'" Merritt said. "I think he would tell his wife, ''Theresa, it's OK. You just finish what we started. You get out there and you help them children get in school."
"And she's going to do it. She's going to find a way to do it. My sister will not stop for nothing. She's one of the hardest working women I know," Merritt continued.
For now, though, Merritt said, the family is focused on God for comfort and thankful for the outpouring community support they've received, both in Chapel Hill and in Hampton.
"I'm so thankful that God didn't take both of them. He left one of them here," she said. "The support is overwhelming, and it's so wonderful to see so much support for somebody who has worked so diligently in the community."
The family has set up a memorial fund for donations to help children go to college. Donations to the Watson Family Fund can be made at any Wells Fargo bank.