Jackie and Patrick Delane spent their last hours together line-dancing in The Woodlands, surrounded by friends and family in a joyous early celebration of Patrick’s 50th birthday. The Spring couple hit up a popular wine lounge and a trendy bar and bistro, making jokes and living it up into the early hours Sunday morning.
When they all finally called it a night after a meal at IHOP, Jackie and Patrick were the first to leave, headed home for some shut eye before a golf outing that afternoon.
They never made it.
Just before 4 a.m., the couple was headed southbound on Interstate 45 when a black Dodge Charger driving the wrong way crashed into their Mercedes at more than 100 mph, police said.
The Charger burst into flames upon impact, and a wrecker driver doused the blaze but was unable to save the driver, 32-year-old Allan Bonilla of Houston.
The Delanes’ Mercedes careened off into a cement barrier, tearing apart the front end of the vehicle.
Jeanette Crawford, Jackie’s sister, was driving home from the IHOP when she spotted the wreckage along the side of the highway.
“I was sick,” she said. “I was just saying, ‘Please God, please God, don’t let it be them.’ ”
But she thought she recognized the car — and she was right. When the 55-year-old finally found an exit ramp and circled back, an officer confirmed her worst fears.
“He came and told me nobody made it,” she said.
Authorities said it wasn’t immediately clear why the Dodge was headed the wrong direction.
“It’s still under investigation,” said DPS spokesman Erik Burse, adding that intoxication was “a possibility.”
Patrick and Jackie had first met more than 15 years earlier, when their children played in the same middle school band. Jackie’s son Bryson and Patrick’s daughter Melanie were in the same grade, and their parents first bonded over the high price of band instruments.
“They were so in love,” Crawford said. In 2007, they married and settled down together in Spring.
Jackie, the ninth of 10 children in a tight-knit Arkansas family, was in the U.S. Army Reserve and worked for nearly two decades as a postal carrier. A conscientious woman, every Christmas season Jackie pitched in to hand-write responses to a couple hundred letters to Santa mailed out by hopeful youngsters, her sister said.
Patrick, raised in Houston County, was a mechanic by trade but also worked in the oil and gas industry.
Together, they loved to travel, ziplining and JetSkiing on trips to places like Barcelona, Hawaii and New Orleans.
“This is so devastating,” Rhonda Thomas, another of Jackie’s sisters, said Sunday. “Two wonderful people gone in a matter of seconds. They never had a chance.”
The stretch of I-45 north of Houston where Patrick and Jackie died has been particularly deadly as the site of two fatal head-on crashes in three days in 2012.
That July, a Spring woman who’d been caught on videotape downing 17 shots and four beers at a bar, killed two people in a wrong-way wreck.
Less than 48 hours later, Edward Maxwell was accused of drinking 22 beers at a Woodlands bar before heading out on the road, sparking a crash that killed three.
Wrong-way wrecks have been on the rise in Texas in recent years, with 251 reported in 2014, a 50 percent jump over the previous four years. Those crashes netted 102 injuries and fatalities, compared to only 55 to 64 each of the previous four years.
Even though it’s currently not clear what sparked the head-on crash that killed the Spring couple, Jackie’s family has taken some consolation that she didn’t die alone.
“They went to heaven together,” Crawford said.