WCU student Deese remembered at memorial

On Sunday, March 25, the Western Carolina University community lost one of its own in a tragic car wreck on Speedwell Road.

Stephanie Deese, a 21-year-old WCU junior and resident of Monroe, passed away after the car she was riding in left the roadway and impacted a tree on a nearby embankment.  The driver of the vehicle, 20-year-old Alan Honeycutt of Concord, was airlifted to Mission Hospital in Asheville with serious injuries and was listed in stable condition on Monday.

Trooper S.K. Bowers of the NC Highway patrol said that the vehicle, a 2007 Hyundai, “came to rest in a small field below the tree” that the vehicle impacted. The car landed in an overturned position, and rescue workers had to remove the top of the vehicle to extract the two occupants. The accident is still under investigation by Highway Patrol.

Students have been affected by the loss to the campus community and attended a candlelight vigil in Deese’s honor at the campus fountain Monday night.

Student Government Association President TJ Eaves said that he believed it was important to the healing process to have a time for students to come together in support and solidarity for Deese’s family and reflect on their memories.

“Anytime a thing like this happens, it’s tough since we’re such a tight-knit community. We want this to be a time where students can come together and remember Stephanie” said Eaves.

Some students have begun the process of petitioning the NC Department of Transportation for safety improvements along the road. As of Tuesday afternoon, a Twitter petition had received 645 signatures, with the number still rising. Students specifically ask for a guardrail along the narrow, winding road.

Division engineer for NC DOT District 10 Joel Setzer said that anytime there is a fatal accident on a roadway, the DOT will investigate and determine if safety improvements can be made on the road itself.  He said that Speedwell Road was scheduled for widening several years ago, but budget restructuring within the DOT eliminated a fund used to improve secondary roads, and the project was shelved.

Setzer says that the presence of a guardrail would likely have resulted in a different outcome of the accident, and that the department will thoroughly investigate the crash. If it is determined that the road is a candidate for safety improvements like a guardrail, the department’s Spot Safety fund will be used to finance the improvements.

“Unfortunately, we have 60 to 70 fatal accidents a year in this district, and none of those are acceptable,” said Setzer. “We are sorry for the loss of the young girl’s life and the injuries sustained by the young man, and our thoughts are with their families.”

Dr. Sam Miller, vice chancellor for student affairs, stated in an email to students that Counseling and Psychological Services has staff ready to support students dealing with the events. Counseling and Psychological Services may be contacted at 828-227-7469.