GIBSONTON — Last month, LaShay Waiters got down on one knee and proposed to Yvette Alexandre in front of a room packed with family and friends. She said yes.
About two weeks ago, it was Alexandre's turn to surprise him: She was pregnant. It wasn't planned, but the young couple was excited about being parents.
"They had a great future together," said Waiters' mother, Tamika Snipes.
Now they're gone.
Waiters, 24, and Alexandre, 21, died after a wrong-way driver slammed into the couple's car Thursday night on Interstate 75 near the Gibsonton exit, authorities said.
The wrong way driver, 21-year-old Justin Lakin of Bradenton, also died from the violent head-on crash. The Florida Highway Patrol on Friday was still investigating what led up to the crash.
Along with the grief, the couple's loved ones were grappling with a question no one yet could answer.
Said Alexandre's father, Robert: "I'd like to know why he was driving on the opposite side of the highway."
• • •
Waiters and Alexandre grew up a few counties apart and crossed paths at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Alexandre was born in Boston, between two sons of Robert and Suzette Alexandre, and the family moved to Lutz when she was 5. She attended Terrace Community Middle School in Thonotosassa and graduated in 2014 from Tampa Bay Technical High School, where she played lacrosse.
Alexandre's faith in God moved her to sing and dance. Until she moved away for college, she attended Brown Memorial Church of God in Christ in Tampa every Sunday, singing in the youth choir and dancing on the liturgical dance team.
She never struggled to find a reason to flash a wide, brilliant smile.
"She was jovial, amicable, free-spirited," said Robert Alexandre, who now lives in Ruskin with Suzette and their 15-year-old son. "She was the best daughter a father could ask for."
Alexandre was inspired to study psychology by Dr. George Huang, a forensic psychologist — and her favorite character — on the fictional television show Law and Order. She wanted to understand what makes people commit crimes.
She met Waiters at UCF about three years ago, and their personalities clicked.
Known by the nickname Shay, Waiters was born in Bradenton, one of seven siblings, and graduated from Braden River High School, said Snipes, his mother, who now lives in Ruskin. He decided to study sports medicine with hopes of becoming a team doctor in the National Football League.
While pursuing his degree, Waiters worked as a supervisor at an Orlando YMCA and coached a flag football team for players younger than 18.
"He had a passion for kids," Snipes said. "He got along with everybody and had a great sense of humor."'
A couple of months ago, Waiters and Alexandre moved into a new apartment in Orlando. He hatched a plan for a surprise wedding proposal, inviting about 50 of their family members and friends to what Alexandre thought would be a housewarming party in the apartment complex's clubhouse on Oct. 25.
Before he proposed, Waiters pulled Robert Alexandre aside and asked for his daughter's hand in marriage.
"I found that admirable, especially given the young men of this era who don't understand the value of chivalry," Alexandre said.
His daughter was the only person in the room surprised by the timing of the proposal, and she bawled like a baby, her father said.
About two weeks later, Alexandre told him she was pregnant. It wasn't part of their plan, but they were happy, their family said. They would graduate as planned in the spring and juggle careers and parenthood.
"She was determined, so I knew she wouldn't let anything hold her back from what she wanted to do," her father said.
On Thursday, the couple and a friend stopped by the home of Alexandre's parents on the way to have Thanksgiving dinner at Snipes' house. Robert Alexandre spoke with the couple in a conversation that, in hindsight, he's glad he had.
"I wanted to reaffirm the fact that I was proud of them, and I didn't want them to feel anyone was disappointed in the choices they made. That couldn't be further from the truth," he said. "I wanted her to know that she had my enduring love and support as a father."
After dinner, they stopped by the Alexandres' house again for another quick visit before heading to Tampa to take their friend home.
They stayed for about 10 minutes and dashed out again. Her parents told her they'd see her later.
• • •
The couple planned to spend the night at Snipes' house, and almost made it.
But as Waiters drove south in Snipes' 2009 Ford Focus shortly after 10 p.m., Lakin was headed north in the center southbound lane driving a 2012 Toyota Corolla. They collided just south of Exit 250 at Gibsonton Drive.
The force of the crash crumpled both cars. Rescue crews had to remove the roof of the Focus to get to Waiters and Alexandre. All three were wearing seat belts and died at Tampa General Hospital.
It was not immediately clear to investigators where Lakin entered I-75 headed the wrong way. Alcohol was not immediately suspected as a factor in the crash but the investigation continued Friday and a toxicology report on Lakin was pending, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol.
Lakin's father, Brian, declined to speak with a reporter when reached by phone Friday.
"I'm in shock," he said.
Alexandre's parents didn't know what happened until Highway Patrol troopers showed up at the their home about 4 a.m. Friday.
By then, their daughter and the fiance she was to share her life with were already gone.
"I believe he would make a very good son-in-law," Robert Alexandre said, "but now I'll never know."
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.