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Who Was Steven? : The Little Boy Who Had Been Kidnaped Never Found Himself

September 22, 1989|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

For now there were two children--3-year-old Ashley and 2-year-old Steven Jr.--to protect and with an unusual dedication rooted in his own past. Or as Stayner said in a May interview promoting the movie of his life: "They don't go out unless I go with them or there's someone outside watching. If they're just out on the porch, the door is always open. As long as I can see them and hear their voices, I'm OK."

He had one job helping the janitorial service of his father-in-law, an apartment house manager. There was a second job as a trainee manager at a Pizza Hut and it was going well.

"He was getting a feeling of accomplishment," said Lee Marano, owner of five Pizza Hut franchises in the Merced-Atwater area. "He was evolving, developing a more outgoing personality, giving direction to others."

Role of Crusader

Stayner also was becoming a full crusader for the one thing in which he certainly was expert--child abduction.

He delivered warning lectures to youngsters at local schools. There were appearances for the Kevin Collins Foundation of San Francisco and other groups searching for missing children. Stayner, accompanied by Kay Stayner, his mother, testified before the Ways and Means Committee of the State Assembly on one bill that would increase penalties for kidnaping children, and another requiring parents to have their children fingerprinted.

"Steven became a representative of the fact that, hey, missing children can come home," noted Hawkins. "He was something tangible, something for them (parents) to hang onto in this situation where thousands go missing and only two or three come home."

The burdens of his earlier life, said his friends, seemed to become lighter as each door closed on the past.

Closing the Door

The heaviest, they believe, was the making of the miniseries.

"In one of my last interviews with him, right before the miniseries, he said that he was glad that was over," Booth related. "He had known for years there would be a TV movie. So to him, it was one more of those doors closing."

On Saturday, just before 5 p.m., Stayner was finished with his shift at Pizza Hut at 16th and G streets. It had been raining heavily. His manager, Todd Smith, suggested he drive the franchise's pickup home and stay dry.

Stayner--after reminding the manager that his license had been suspended and that an accident in the truck might not be good for Pizza Hut business--declined the offer.

He rode off down Santa Fe Drive.

Rammed a Car

At 4:55 p.m., three miles later, and at less than the posted 55-m.p.h. limit, he rammed the car that, said California Highway Patrol investigators, pulled into the street ahead of his cycle.

At 5:35 p.m., at Merced Community Medical Center, Stayner was declared dead of a fracture at the back of the skull.

The driver of the car--identified by officers as Antonio Loera, an employee of a tomato-packing company--fled the scene. He later surrendered in Tijuana, was returned here and has been arraigned on felony hit-and-run and manslaughter charges.

One Last Reunion

The life and death of Steven Stayner has written touching footnotes.

A small family group attended his funeral service. They sat in rear seats and were able to avoid the media. It was James and Angie White and their son, Timmy, now 14, the boy that Stayner had walked to freedom.

There was one lonely statement by Cindy Stayner. She said she was waiting for the telephone to ring. "Someone will say it's OK, Steve is here and he's alive," she said. "Because that's what happened before."

Jody Stayner, a widow at 20, tried to draw some calm from it all. She remembered her husband's past, his pain and his strange sense of not quite belonging.

"But he's not hurting any more," she said. "Nobody can hurt him now." He's free, she said. That's why she chose a very special inscription for the lid of her husband's casket. "It says: 'Going Home.' "

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