Coda: September 16, 1989, Santa Fe Road

At about 5:30 PM, Steven Stayner was riding his motorcycle home from his job at Pizza Hut heading out of Merced towards Atwater on Santa Fe Road.

At this point Steven was 24, he was married, and had two children. He had also wrecked three cars and amassed over $1,000 in speeding tickets, and his driver’s license was suspended, for the third time. He liked to drive fast and he was now riding fast down Santa Fe Road without a helmet.

He was nearing Richwoods Meats (where he formerly worked) when a car pulled out of a side road and stalled. Steven slammed into the driver side door and was thrown 45 feet over the car causing major head injuries. The driver fled the scene.

The street with no name looking towards Santa Fe Road with a BNSF freight heading southeast towards Merced. Steven was heading towards Atwater, which is to the right. He was struck and killed at this intersection.

He was taken to a Merced County Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 5:35 PM.

This was the end of Steven Stayner’s short but troubled life. He had spend 30% of his 24 years away from his family being sexually abused by Kenneth Parnell. When he returned to Merced in 1980, he had trouble readjusting to his new found fame and the structured Stayner household. The added stigma of having been a victim of a pedophile made him an easy target for bullies at Merced High School.

The Stayner home as it looks today. The garage that once held his name is on the left.

What I found astonishing was that after all that Steven had gone through, he did not receive any professional counseling, in fact his parents were against it.

Steven Gregory Stayner’s funeral was held in Merced at the Church of Latter Day Saints’ on September 20, 1989. Five hundred people attended the funeral, including the now fourteen year old Timothy White, who helped Steven Stayner along on his final journey, just as Steven had helped Timothy nine years before.

Timothy White was one of his pallbearers.

Steven Stayner rests in Merced, just across the highway and UP mainline from his childhood home on Bette Street.

Near the end of Steven’s life, a popular television miniseries was made about his life called I Know My Name is Steven. He made a cameo as a Merced police office in the scene when Steven returns to his home on Bette Street for the first time in over seven years. The series was nominated for four Emmys. Steven died the day before the Emmy ceremony.

A screen shot from the miniseries I Know My Name is Steven. In the center, behind the dog, is the actor Corin Nemec who plays the 14 year old Steven. The officer on the right is the real Steven Stayner.

In Merced’s Applegate Park there is a statue commemorating the moment that Steven left the one room cabin in rural Mendocino County and fled for freedom with five year old Timmy White. The statue, named the Steven Stayner Missing Children’s Memorial, was created by Paula Slater and dedicated on August 28, 2010.

Sometime in April 2020, the plaque attached to the base was stolen. Was this an act from a local who wanted to forget about the Stayner family or maybe just a treasure seeker?

What I think the statue represents is the light of courage and positivity in a deep dark experience that Stayner suffered for seven years. In the end he made the right decision that not only saved himself but another young life. I know that the label “hero” is often overused nowadays but this moniker fits the actions of fourteen year old Steven Stayner perfectly.


Castle Air Museum

From my childhood bedroom window on Cormorant Court, I looked down at the scrub-jays, mourning doves, and house sparrows at the feeder and birdbath in the backyard. These noticings fueled a lifelong passion for birds.

To look skyward, to the east, was the flight path of planes as they approached Moffett Field, a naval base in Sunnyvale. The sound of the P-3 Orion’s turboprops were the sound of my childhood, along with the calls of scrub-jays and mourning doves. I learned to identify planes as I identified birds. I knew a C-5 from a C-130, an A-4 from an F-4. I just loved things than fly!

I built models of airplanes such as the F-4, B-52, and KC-135 and hung them from the ceiling with push pins and dental floss. I shared this hobby with a neighbor two doors down and he now is a pilot for United Airlines.

So there should be no surprise that I left Santa Cruz at 6:40 AM, my destination was Atwater, two hours and ten minutes away. My destination was the Castle Air Museum. This air museum is one of the largest collections of military planes (or any planes) on the West Coast.

I am always looking for new sketching challenges and Castle’s collection of almost 70 aircraft would fit the bill. In the end, I did ten sketches in just under three hours.

A sketch of the business end of one of the aircraft that mesmerized me as a child, the world’s fastest plane: SR-71 Blackbird. It’s top speed was Mach 3.3, four times as fast as the average cruising speed of a commercial jet. 32 of these high-speed, high-altitude, reconnaissance aircraft where built, 26 still exist and like this Blackbird, are on static display in museums.

The trip was also a dip into nostalgia as I was sketching an F-4 Phantom, one of the planes I built a model of when I was a kid. As I’ve noted before, you really get to know something when you sketch it.

The business end of an F-4 Phantom. This jet is painted in the livery of the Thunderbirds No. 5, the Air Force Demonstration Squadron. When I was a kid, I built four F-4s in the Blue Angels livery. I would watch the Blue Angles’ performance from my roof.
A sketch of an F-16 Fighting Falcon. This plane was part of the National Guard, stationed in Fresno. The F-16 could cover the distance between it’s base in Fresno and San Francisco in 11 minutes!
F-86H Sabre, a Korean War swept-wing fighter with a top speed of 600 mph. It’s painted nose is a throw back to the P-40 of World War II.