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Three-fifty-eight p.m. Thursday, May 27, 2010, is a date and time forever etched in the memories of one Supply family.
It’s when 23-year-old Stephanie Fay Heath took her last breath.
The young Brunswick Community College student was driving on N.C. 211 on her way to pick up her boyfriend from work at St. James Plantation. A vehicle driven by Richard Joseph Constantineau, then 42, of Rocky Point, crossed the centerline and struck Heath’s vehicle head-on.
Heath was driving a 1994 Ford truck, and Constantineau was driving a 1999 Chevrolet.
“The last thing we said to each other that morning was ‘Good-bye, I love you,’” Kim Heath, Stephanie’s mother, said. “Contact with her boyfriend abruptly stopped. She was supposed to pick him up at 4 p.m. She never got there. It was a day that changed everything forever.”
At the time of the wreck N.C. Highway Patrol suspected Constantineau was impaired, and drug charges were pending.
The fatal wreck happened 20 days after another impaired driver killed Satu Harris, 38, of Oak Island. She was a mother of three.
In December, a Brunswick County jury convicted Daniel Harrison Brennick of second-degree murder, felony death by vehicle and DWI for the wreck that claimed Harris’ life.
“The community was outraged that another impaired driver had taken another life. Two women died tragically in just a few weeks,” Heath said. “Stephanie was crushed from the inside out—she was an organ donor, but there was nothing left.”
On Monday, Feb. 18, Constantineau, 45, pled guilty to misdemeanor death by motor vehicle.
In exchange for the plea, charges of felony death by motor vehicle, DWI and driving left of center were dismissed.
Constantineau was sentenced to 75 days in jail.
He was given credit for time served.
“We are thankful he has been in jail for 22 months because the citizens of the county are much safer because he was in jail,” Heath said.
At press time Constantineau was awaiting a jury trial on a charge of being a prisoner in possession of a weapon. It’s a charge from Dec. 6, 2011, and carries a $10,000 secured bond.
That trial was anticipated to unfold in a Brunswick County courtroom on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Prior to Monday’s court proceedings, Constantineau was in the Brunswick County Detention Center under $110,100 secured bond.
Constantineau also faces charges in Pender County for reckless driving to endanger. They are charges he incurred after the 2010 death of Heath. He is scheduled to appear on those charges on Thursday, Feb. 21.
Putting it to rest
“We would like for the whole thing to be put to rest. It may not be the outcome we want, but it is time to bring some closure for the whole family,” Heath said just days before the trial.
She knew before entering the courtroom Monday there was a chance Constantineau could walk away a free man.
The family had prepared itself for a trial and sentencing several times in the past few years. Each time the case was delayed for a variety of reasons.
Heath worries another person could be killed.
“Stephanie was the middle child; she had two sisters,” she said. “He took the heart right out of the family.”
“You don’t ever expect to get that phone call,” she said. “At first there was so much shock and numbness. The numbness just takes over…when a child dies it’s not like losing a parent or grandparent where you lose the past—with a child you lose the future. My two daughters lost a sister and the future of nieces and nephews. It’s bad enough he took her, but the lingering effect—the absence of Stephanie lasts for generations through her sisters.”
Almost immediately after Stephanie’s death, the Heath family founded a scholarship fund at BCC in her memory.
Stephanie was attending classes at BCC and planned to transfer to UNC-Wilmington in the future.
The Stephanie Heath Memorial Scholarship Fund was recently endowed, and now a scholarship is awarded every semester.
“Stephanie had just made the dean’s list two days before she was killed,” Heath said. “We are constantly raising money for the scholarship.”
The Heaths have also adopted the stretch of highway where Stephanie lost her life.
Four times a year family and friends gather along N.C. 211 at the Lockwood Folly Bridge and clean up the highway.
“We clean a two-mile stretch four times a year. Stephanie loved the outdoors, and I think she would feel good about us doing something for the Earth to honor her. I hope people drive by and see the sign, remember and slow down,” Heath said. “I want to remind people to be careful; that road is full of trucks and speeders.”
The Heaths will gather at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, on N.C. 211 at the Lockwood Folly Bridge to clean the side of the highway. Anyone who wants to help and honor Stephanie’s memory is invited to participate.
Scholarship donations may be made to The Stephanie Heath Memorial Scholarship Fund, Brunswick Community College Foundation, P.O. Box 30, Supply, N.C. 28462.
Rachel Johnson is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.