(Chicago Tribune) - William Riley Knight serenaded his new bride Nikki with a country tune, singing "Wherever you’re going, whenever you turn, remember this moment, remember these words."
"They made their own wedding vows and he sang to her and it was just beautiful. We just thought it was very sweet," a relative recalled, in a voice heavy with tears. "They were very much in love."
The wedding reception wound down close to midnight Saturday and the couple headed for a hotel, Nikki still wearing her white lace dress. Just outside Crown Point, Ind. they saw a car skid off the road in front of them and slide into the ditch.
It's cold, he told his wife, we should help.
Knight parked in a driveway and walked down the road while Nikki waited in the car, according to police and friends. As he helped the driver, Linda Darlington, a teacher, up the snowy embankment, they were both hit by three passing cars and were killed.
"He was a good Samaritan trying to help this woman in distress," said Patti Van Til, a spokeswoman for the Lake County, Ind. sheriff's office. "It's a very sad, tragic situation."
The accident happened along a dimly lit stretch of 109th Avenue near Lane Street, just below a rise in the road, and the drivers may have come upon the two suddenly, authorities said. The road was wet but not icy, Van Til said. Snow banks piled along the ditch by plow trucks may have forced Knight and Darlington closer to traffic.
"One of the first vehicles was coming eastbound and struck both individuals," said Lake County Sheriff John Bunich. "A car right behind them, the first vehicle, also struck the two, and unfortunately a third vehicle that was eastbound also struck the couple."
Police said the second car was driven by a man who was being followed in another car by his wife. Authorities said alcohol was not a factor in the accident and no charges were expected.
Friends said Knight, who went by his middle name Riley, served as a U.S. Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division for about 12 years. Darlington was a teacher at Joan Martin Elementary in Hobart, Ind.
Knight had been dating Nikki for about six years. "They were very joyous," the relative said. "He was a true father to his children and to Nikki's children. He loved them and the kids loved him."
Their children were between 10 and 13 and "were having such a good time" at the wedding, the relative said.
Knight acted in community theater and that was how he met his wife. "He had a wonderful voice. A country western kind of voice. He played guitar also."
Angie Lowe said she first met Knight when he was a kid and participated in her theater group.
"He grew into an incredible man. He loved his country, he loved his family. He loved his friends, he loved his craft. He loved doing whatever he was doing, he threw his whole self in," Lowe told reporters.
"The wedding was the best last night anyone could have spent," she said. "He was the happiest I've seen him. And so was Nikki. . . The love, the humor that came out in those two. And what was more important was the promise of a future that was just going to be all theirs."
Hobart School Superintendent Peggy Buffington said in a statement Sunday night that Darlington made an "extraordinary" impact on her students.
"From the minute the principals interviewed Linda Darlington, they knew they found an extraordinary teacher for children. They told me I had to meet her," Buffington said.
She said counselors would be at Joan Martin Elementary today.
Parents said they were struggling to explain Darlington's death to their children.
"I tell them she's in heaven," said one parent, crying. "She can still watch over them."
Added another parent, "I tell them they can cry."
Funeral arrangements for Darlington are pending at Chapel Lawn funeral home in Schererville.