EVERETT — Binh Nguyen was kind to a fault.
His sister, LoiBeth King, said he would give a stranger the shirt off his back. For him, that might not just be a saying — he would have actually done it.
In the days since his death, people from all over have flooded King with stories about her brother — those who grew up with him in the orphanages, old shipmates from the Navy, church friends, coworkers and family. Thursday afternoon, an online fundraiser had collected over $33,000 to help pay for funeral and hospital expenses for him and his family.
Nguyen, 52, of Everett, was on his way to the coast of Texas with his wife, two daughters and the women he called mother and aunt. They were supposed to go on a cruise.
Around 2 a.m. April 6, they were headed east in a Dodge Caravan on a highway in central Texas. The road was wet. They were on the inside lane, while a semi-truck was traveling on the outside lane in front of them. The truck slowed down to make a right turn onto a private road, according to an initial report from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The Caravan didn’t stop in time and ran into the back of the truck.
Nguyen, his daughter Elizabeth, 12, his mother Diane Gryseels, 74, and her sister Evelyn Wimberley, 65, were killed. His wife and older daughter suffered serious injuries and were transported to separate hospitals. They are expected to survive.
Elizabeth Nguyen attended Voyager Middle School in the Mukilteo School District.
The truck driver was not hurt. A full report on the crash, which will look at possible contributing factors, has not been released yet.
King said Nguyen had been the same positive, cherubic person as far back as she can remember. After their father was captured in the Vietnam War, they grew up in orphanages together — first in Cam Ranh City, then in Dallas, Texas.
During that time, Gryseels became their “American mom,” King said. They first met Gryseels when she was a missionary in Vietnam. When they moved to Dallas, she and her sister would make trips to visit them from her home in Temple, Texas.
When they were grown, King went to do missionary work in Asia while Nguyen joined the Navy.
Steve Muirhead was stationed with Nguyen on the USS Ford fast frigate in Long Beach. He’s forgotten many of his former shipmates, but even after three decades he still remembers Nguyen. Muirhead said Nguyen, always laughing and cracking jokes, set the tone for everybody.
“After you spend like two minutes talking to the guy, you just kind of fall in love with him,” Muirhead said.
Nguyen worked as a telecommunications technician and was used to climbing to the highest parts of the ship, his then supervisor, Saul Estrada, said. When Nguyen was up for re-enlistment, he had his commanding officers strap up in harnesses and climb to the tip-top of the masthead for the ceremony.
“He would just do stuff like that,” Estrada said.
Nguyen never really quit the Navy. After retiring from military service, he kept working as a civilian at naval stations in Everett, where he was last stationed, and most recently Whidbey Island.
Israel Avendano, a contractor who works at Naval Air Station Whidbey, said Nguyen was always looking out for everyone. Nguyen would hand out granola bars to people and tell them not to get sick. And he would donate paid time-off hours to his coworkers when there were family emergencies or funerals they had to attend.
One time, Avendano got Seahawks tickets for himself and his son. Nguyen insisted on driving them there and back, even though he wasn’t going to the game. Avendano said no, but Nguyen wouldn’t take that for an answer. Neither would he accept money for gas. Everyone, it seemed, eventually caved to Nguyen’s insistent generosity.
Acts of kindness persist in everyone’s accounts of Nguyen. One time, he let a woman who was living on the street stay in his home. On another occasion, he went on a mission trip to Ensenada, Mexico to build a house for those in need. He often volunteered for his church in Everett.
Nguyen loved traveling and photography. His Facebook is littered with pictures from his family’s escapades: Mt. Rainier, the tulip fields in Skagit County, the Grand Canyon.
He would often go on trips with his friend Aaron Hoy. Last August, they camped near Baker Lake and hiked up Sauk Mountain. It would be their last big adventure.
“That’s the hardest part of him being gone,” he said. “He wasn’t just a best friend, he was a journey friend. I never thought through if something like this were to happen to him. … This guy is irreplaceable.”
King, who lives in Asia, still has a hard time believing her little brother is gone. She’s used to chiding Nguyen for being too willing to help others. Now that he’s gone, she said she’s learning from his example. Maybe, she said, she needs to focus on relationships with people the same carefree way her brother did.
“He served with all his heart, he had fun with all his heart, he loved with all his heart,” she said.