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.
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.
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.
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.
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.