Two Die In Wrong-Way Highway Collision

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A head-on collision Tuesday night on Highway 87 killed two Rim Country residents.

Marni Stephenson, 61, of Star Valley was driving northbound on the Beeline Highway at about 8 p.m. when her white Chevrolet pickup collided head-on with a silver Chevrolet pickup driven by Thomas Cassanova, 72, of Tonto Basin.

Department of Public Safety Officer John Whetten said both drivers died at the scene, which was about 5 miles south of the Payson city limits.

According to law enforcement, Cassanova was driving the wrong way while traveling south on Highway 87. He turned onto the highway from Round Valley Road.

Stephenson was returning to Star Valley after visiting her husband, Larry Stephenson, who is recovering in a rehabilitation facility in the Valley after suffering a stroke.

Whetten said several drivers almost collided with Cassanova's vehicle before he struck Stephenson's truck. Cassanova drove on the wrong side of the roadway for more than 2 miles. Other drivers tried to get his attention to let him know he was driving into oncoming traffic.

Whetten said both drivers were traveling at highway speed when they collided.

"I would estimate the closure speed would be at least 120 mph due to the condition of the vehicles," the DPS officer said.

The vehicles were in such bad shape that the bodies of the two deceased drivers could not be removed at the scene, and had to be brought back into Payson in order to be extracted.

Whetten could not say why Cassanova was driving on the wrong side of the highway, but he did say that Cassanova had undergone heart surgery in the past month.

"We do not know if that was a factor," he said. "There is no indication of anything. We are waiting for the autopsy. We do not know why."

A third driver, Dottie Adam Tangeman, 63, of Payson, struck Cassanova's vehicle lightly while traveling northbound on the Beeline Highway after the first two vehicles collided. She suffered no injuries.

Whetten said the northbound portion of Highway 87 was shut down for about 45 minutes.

Friends and acquaintances fondly remember Stephenson.

Sherry Patterson, who was training Stephenson on horses and competitions, remembered her friend as a person who was full of life.

"She was a go-getter," Patterson said. "She had one of those laughs. She was always laughing at stuff."

She said Stephenson was very dedicated to her horses.

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Marni Stephenson, 61, of Star Valley was driving northbound on the Beeline Highway at about 8 p.m. when her white Chevrolet pickup collided head-on with a silver Chevrolet pickup driven by Thomas Cassanova, 72, of Tonto Basin.

"I was training her horse and her to make them a better team," she said. "Horses were a big passion for her." She added that she passed that passion on to her granddaughter.

"She had a lot of friends in the horse community," Patterson said.

One of her closest friends, Robbie Wertin, said she has been pretty devastated since she was informed of the news.

She said Stephenson was a high-energy person who valued family more than anything else.

She phoned her family every day. Most of her children and grandchildren live in the Valley.

"She and (her husband) Larry were very close," Wertin said.

Stephenson had two horses, two dogs and a cat.

Alan Hallman, a veterinarian in Star Valley as well as a neighbor of Stephenson's for the past eight years, said the animals will be taken care of until Larry returns home.

"They are well taken care of," Hallman said. "Marni was just very, very fond of her animals.

"She had a tremendous heart and a bubbling, outgoing personality.

"She was someone I would like to be like."

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