Stephany was born in California on May 20, 1999. She was a straight-A student and on the soccer team at West Jordan High School. She loved chemistry and reading. Her favorite books were the Twilight series and Hunger Games. She’d read them over and over again and then spoil the movies for us because she was so excited to tell us what happened next. Stephany was persistent and worked at something until she got it: a go-getter, full of talent and kind. We were so proud of her for being a good girl and such a protective big sister. Her closet was so clean and organized; everything sorted by color. She loved her dog, Daisy.
Our family loved to take vacations to California to visit the beach and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Stephany loved rollercoasters and the bigger and scarier they were, the better. But all of that changed on August 2, 2015.
We were driving home from California and it was really late. We had stopped at Zions National Park to go sightseeing and then tried to find a hotel nearby. We called 18 hotels but they were all full so we decided to keep driving home. My 10-year-old daughter, Valerie, decided to ride back to Utah with my brother who was driving ahead of us, so it was just my husband and I with Stephany in the back seat. My husband was tired from driving so I said I would drive. The next thing I knew the car was going in circles, rolling. When it stopped, I looked back and called her name but she wasn’t there. I got out of the car and started running until I saw her. There was blood. We crashed about 2:30 a.m. The closest fire station was 40 minutes away.
Stephany was thrown from the car and then struck by another vehicle on the road. On long road trips she would often take her seat belt off and lay down on the back seat. Valerie always told her big sister to keep her seat belt on and to sit up straight in the seat.
I feel so guilty every single day. I knew better. I shouldn’t have driven sleepy. I shouldn’t have let her lie down on the back seat without her seat belt on. Don’t take the chance; your life can change in a second. And ours did change. Forever. Don’t drive sleepy. Wear a seat belt. A seat belt saved my life and my husband’s life.
We were best friends and talked about everything. My husband is devastated. He can’t talk about her. Her best friend, Melissa, still calls me and we visit the cemetery and cry together. I see everyone picking up their kids at school and I dream about being able to pick her up from school again. I miss listening to my girls laugh on the couch together while they watch movies. They were so close.
I believe that Stephany is in heaven and that I will see her again. That she’s OK. I talk to her every morning and I feel her presence. The “Fight Song” was her song and sometimes on hard days that song will come on the radio and it’s a sign that she’s there, watching over us.
Two weeks before the crash, Stephany told me she wanted to be an organ donor. When I asked her why, she said she wanted to save lives. Stephany wanted to be a doctor or ER nurse and help save people. That’s why I’m sharing her story in this book . . . maybe someone’s life will be saved.
Stephany had a mole on her forehead. I thought it made her look so pretty but she hated it and had it removed. We liked to watch movies together and she would tell me to grab the pillow and cover my eyes during the bad parts. But my favorite thing about my sister is that she’d let me sleep with her. When I had nightmares, she would hug me. She always said, “Hug me, hug me!” to me every night. I miss her the most at night.
The night of the crash, I was in my uncle’s car. I remember waking up in bad traffic and the police asking us about my mom, dad, and sister. They kept asking me when Stephany’s birthday was and I didn’t understand why. We had gone to Magic Mountain and Stephany made me go on the scariest ride there, but we don’t do that stuff anymore. If I had been in the car with her, I would have told her to put her seat belt on. My sister is an angel now.
(Stephany Villegas’ 10-year-old sister)