Community remembers Victoria man killed in wreck

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Sept. 17, 2013 at 4:17 a.m.
Updated Sept. 18, 2013 at 4:18 a.m.

Josie Nava, 27, Jonathon Stithem, 21, Lainie Garcia, 21, at Castle Hill Graffiti, also known as Foundation Graffiti, in Austin on Sept. 1.

Josie Nava, 27, Jonathon Stithem, 21, Lainie Garcia, 21, at Castle Hill Graffiti, also known as Foundation Graffiti, in Austin on Sept. 1.

Jonathon Stithem would have clocked out from Casa Ole for the last time in two weeks.

That's because the 21-year-old was set to begin a career in the U.S. Navy in November.

"He was so nervous but excited. He talked about it a lot and tried to recruit everyone he knew," his manager Denise Brandenberger said Tuesday.

Stithem died Monday night when his black Mazda went into the wrong lane for an unknown reason and struck the front of a oncoming Dodge Challenger on Loop 463 at the Guadalupe River bridge.

Laura Dennis, 42, was driving the Challenger. Her two children - Savanna, 16, and Cory, 13 - were passengers.

Stithem died at the scene and the other three were transported to DeTar Hospital Navarro.

Dennis was listed in good condition Tuesday, while her daughter was treated and released. Her son's condition was not known Tuesday.

The investigation is ongoing, said Department of Public Safety Trooper Gerald Bryant.

Stithem's friends, meanwhile, remembered him as someone who spread happiness wherever he went.

"He never had a bad day that he let people see," his sister, Kristina Stithem, 28, said.

He recovered from a near drowning accident in a neighborhood pool when he was 3 years old, she said.

"He was (flown) to San Antonio, where doctors said he was going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life, but within a month, he was out of the ICU," his sister said. "In less than two months, he was home on oxygen. You couldn't have told yesterday that anything ever happened to him."

He inspired his brother, Allan Stithem, a senior at West High School.

"He always looked out for me," Allan said, describing how the two rode in a hot air balloon, climbed trees, helped with their family's plumbing business and earned Eagle Scout badges together.

In three weeks, Stithem was going skydiving for his sister Jennifer Laughlin's 26th birthday in Dallas.

"In my eyes, he's done more in 21 years than most people do in their whole life. ... He's in a better place now," Allan said.

Although she's wishing for a time machine, Stithem said she'll probably still go skydiving, even though the idea is terrifying. She'll keep a picture of him close by when she does.

"I'm scared of heights," she said. "Other people have offered to go with me, but I don't really want anyone to replace him. I still want it to be a thing I did with him, even if he's not physically there."

Stithem often encouraged people to get out of their shells, his friend Josie Nava said.

Nava met Stithem when the two were servers at Casa Ole Mexican Food Restaurant. He recently visited Nava, 27, in Corpus Christi, where they entered a dance competition at the spur of the moment. They won.

"I remember that like it was yesterday," she said, chuckling.

DJ Hybner, a manager at Chick-fil-A, met Stithem while recruiting him two years ago. He enjoyed every minute he spent with him.

"Our world needs more people like Jonathon. Someone who gets out of bed and lives for the moment. Wish I could have said goodbye to him," Hybner said.

Stithem posted on his Facebook a picture that said he wanted to change someone's life before he died.

"I know for a fact he achieved this," Hybner said.

Stithem is the son of David and Toni Stithem. He also leaves behind his niece, Evelynn Burks, 2, and nephew, James Stithem, 6.



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