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A Patrol Family's Thanksgiving Tragedy

The following story is true, unfortunately it's a story that unfolds all too often on Missouri's highways on any given day, but this just happened to be Thanksgiving eve. The Tillman family has asked the Patrol to use the following story as a catalyst for seat belt usage and attentive driving. Please learn from what you are about to read and take it to heart that bad things can happen to good people. You need to do everything you can to protect yourself and your loved ones on our highways.

Stefany Tillman

“Hey everyone! I am currently employed by the Pemiscot County Special School District. I am the Speech Implementer at the Hayti Schools. I could not ask for a more rewarding job ... I love working with kids and seeing the difference I make in their lives. ... I have a wonderful family who I love to death. I am a very easygoing person and get along with almost everyone. When I meet new people I can be a little shy at first, but as you get to know me you’ll see the “real” me. I love to have fun and hang out with my friends. I have the best friends in the world. ... The love of my life is my dog “Harley”. ... I am very easy to get along with and always looking to meet new people ... if you need to know anything else just ask!! ” -- Stefany Tillman, in her own words, from her My Space page.

Stefany Tillman grew up in Hayti, MO, and was salutatorian of her 2003 Hayti High School graduating class. She earned a bachelor’s of science degree in communication disorders from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, AR. She was employed by the Pemiscot County Special School District in Hayti, as a speech implementer in the Hayti school system. It was her second year being a speech teacher and she really enjoyed her work. Stefany Tillman is the kind of person you’d want to know. She was full of life, always smiling, and the life of the party. Stefany counted many people as her friends -- from high school, college, and her place of employment.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to meet Stefany. On Wednesday, November 26, 2008, she was killed in a traffic crash. In an instant, she was gone and her family changed forever.

The family had planned to spend the next day, which was Thanksgiving, at Stefany’s grandmother’s house. Thanksgiving was always a favorite holiday of the Tillman family. The night before, Stefany and her sister, Ginny, attended a holiday party at one of their friend’s houses. The sisters left home together, happy and looking forward to getting together with friends. Later, Stefany left the party with some of her friends and went to another friend’s apartment in Caruthersville, MO, where they played games and enjoyed each other’s company.

Her friends said Stefany just didn’t seem focused that evening, and family members say they knew she was a little preoccupied with an ex-boyfriend. Stefany had a bad habit of texting on her cell phone while driving. She left the apartment around 11:50 p.m. and the traffic crash occurred at 12:05 a.m. about two miles from home. Her family said her phone records indicated Stefany sent a text message at 12:01 a.m. and received one at 12:02 a.m.

A trooper with the Missouri State Highway Patrol worked the crash. According to the report, Stefany A. Tillman, 24, of Hayti, MO, died when the vehicle she was driving ran off the right side of the roadway and she overcorrected, causing the vehicle to run off the left side of the roadway and overturn. Tillman was not wearing a seat belt; she was ejected from the vehicle. The crash occurred in Pemiscot County on Interstate 155, one mile south of Hayti. Pemiscot County Coroner Jim Brimhall pronounced Tillman dead at the scene.

Stefany’s parents had many discussions with her about the importance of wearing a seat belt, especially after she turned 16 and began driving. Her dad, CVO II Randy J. Tillman, is employed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and stationed at Troop E, Poplar Bluff. CVO Tillman would bring home crash reports and show her instances where the person wearing a seat belt had survived a crash, and the person not wearing a seat belt had not survived.

According to her friends and her sister, Stefany did have a recent history of wearing her seat belt. Her car was a 2008 Nissan Altima and included an alarm telling a driver when a seat belt wasn’t being used. However, the evening of her fatal traffic crash, Stefany didn’t have her car. She was driving a 1999 GMC Yukon, without her seat belt fastened. Stefany’s neck was broken when she was ejected from the vehicle as it ran off the road and overturned.

Stefany was a member of First Baptist Church in Hayti, MO. Growing up, she was active in the children’s and youth departments. In 1997, she professed her faith and was baptized. Stefany was living with her parents and sister while trying to save a little money. Her goal was to get her teacher’s certificate in special education and possibly become a full-time elementary school teacher.

Please fasten your seat belt and pay attention to the job of driving.

(Note: The Public Information and Education Division appreciates the assistance of the Tillman family in creating this story and providing the picture. The employees of the Missouri State Highway Patrol wish to express their sympathy to Stefany’s family. CVO II Randy Tillman is a member of our Patrol family and we feel this loss deeply.)

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