Family members on Sunday remembered three refugees from Myanmar who were killed Friday in a wreck as they carpooled home from a plant in Fort Mill, S.C. – a hard blow for a fragile community that has struggled to gain a foothold in the United States.
Over the past six years, dozens of families from villages in Myanmar have fled to east Charlotte to escape poverty and an oppressive government, said Carla Fuller, who runs Help the Refugees, a Charlotte-based support group. Most walked through the jungles of Myanmar to reach refugee camps in border countries. Resettlement can take years.
Resettled to Charlotte by the United Nations, the refugees found jobs at the Ross Stores Distribution Center in Fort Mill, Fuller said.
Three members of the community were killed Friday when their car crashed on Interstate 77 in York County, S.C.
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“We came to the U.S. in 2010 for a better life and safe place for my family,” said Le Bie, whose wife, Tei Paw, was killed. Le Bie and the other refugees, who speak little English, had their quotes transcribed by a translator.
“I can’t imagine life in America without my wife,” Le Bie said. “She was so lovely, and she took care of me, even though she also worked at Ross. She is the best woman in the world for me. That is why I am so hopeless.”
Tei Paw, a mother of three, had worked at the plant late into Friday night and was carpooling home with five other refugees around 11 p.m. when the collision happened.
A passenger bus in front of them started having mechanical problems and began to move into the emergency lane. Witnesses said the Honda Pilot the refugees were riding in swerved to miss the bus and sideswiped a Honda Accord.
Tin Aung, one of the injured passengers, was in the intensive care unit at Carolinas Medical Center on Sunday, Fuller said. He has bleeding on the brain, six broken ribs and an arm injury.
In addition to Tei Paw, two others were killed.
• Khai Hne, 33, arrived in the U.S. with his wife, Rebecca Thla Aye, in 2011. They had planned to celebrate their seven-year wedding anniversary next month. Rebecca Thla Aye is seven months pregnant, and the couple has a 2-year-old daughter.
“My husband was so very kind and lovely. He loved me so much,” she said. “Even though we are very poor, we were very happy. My job was to take care of my husband because he worked so hard.”
• Khai Tlo left behind a 3-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son. His wife, Au Nu, and their two children have been in America since March. Au Nu has had a stroke and lost much of the use of one of her hands.
The community of refugees from Myanmar is tight-knit and has banded together to provide relief for the families affected by the crash, Fuller said. But money is tight, since most work for minimum wage, and supporters were asking for donations.
Westminster Presbyterian Church is taking donations to help the families with funeral and other expenses. Donations can be sent to the church at 101 Colville Road, Charlotte, NC 28207. Checks should say “Car Accident Relief Fund.”