A St. Louis County couple died when a wrong-way driver fleeing police in a stolen vehicle struck their car head-on Sunday afternoon on Highway 54 in mid-Missouri. The wrong-way driver also died.
The Missouri Highway Patrol identified the couple as Bernard G. Steffel, 91, and Marilyn A. Steffel, 89, of north St. Louis County.
The Steffels celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary last Thursday and were heading home to Bellefontaine Neighbors from their home at the Lake of the Ozarks when they were killed, said their oldest son, Bernie Steffel Jr.
“It’s terrible,” the son said. “The only thing I can say is, at least they went together.”
The wrong-way driver is identified as Demarius D. Rubin, 29, of Memphis, Tennessee. The Highway Patrol said Rubin was in a stolen vehicle fleeing from Jefferson City police when he purposefully crossed through the median into the eastbound lanes.
The crash was at about noon Sunday on Highway 54, east of Goller Road, in Cole County. It happened minutes after police said Rubin stole a pickup truck.
Bernard Steffel was driving a 2015 Chevrolet Impala. He and Marilyn Steffel were heading east in the eastbound lanes of the highway. Rubin was driving west in the eastbound lanes in a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado when he hit the Steffels’ car. Rubin’s vehicle then overturned in the median.
The Steffels both were wearing seat belts. Rubin was not. All three people were pronounced dead at the scene, the patrol said.
It wasn’t clear how long the police chase was, or how fast the vehicles were traveling.
An officer with the Jefferson City Police Department had chased the vehicle. Lt. David Williams of Jefferson City Police said police were told about the vehicle theft on the south side of the city. The crash was just outside the city limits.
“It was a situation that evolved quickly and ended tragically,” Williams said.
The Tennessee Department of Corrections database shows that Rubin was on probation. Records show Rubin had convictions for domestic assault, drug possession, stealing and burglary in Shelby County, Tennessee. Williams said he didn’t know why Rubin was in Jefferson City or if he’d had any run-ins with police before the theft.
In general, Williams said, officers in Jefferson City are allowed to decide, case-by-case, if a situation warrants a chase, and a supervisor can terminate the pursuit at any time. Williams declined to share the department’s written policy with a reporter. He said the truck’s theft, because of its cost, would have been a felony.
Williams said the department is conducting an internal investigation, as it does with any pursuit, and that the results would not be made public.
Bernie Steffel Jr., one of the Steffels’ six children, said a trooper from the Highway Patrol came to the home of one of his brothers on Sunday to break the news about their parents; the trooper mentioned the police chase.
“First of all, is the chase really necessary?” Bernie Steffel said. “You have someone driving so irrationally and doing irrational things.
“We’re talking about a truck . I could buy the truck and give it to them.”
The Steffels were snowbirds, said son Martin Steffel; they split time between homes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Bellefontaine Neighbors. They were planning to return to Florida in a few weeks.
The family was planning a surprise party in a few weeks for Marilyn Steffel, who was turning 90 on Oct. 30.
“My mother was an angel,” Bernie Steffel said. “She raised six kids. Everybody turned out good. My dad, he was pretty much the provider, and my mom was the provider in the home.”
Bernard Steffel retired at 48 from Steffel & Sons, a construction company that was founded by his father in 1927 after emigrating from Germany. He was a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, serving with the Army Corps of Engineers; he retired as a lieutenant colonel. The couple had three sons, three daughters and several grandchildren.
The Missouri Highway Patrol’s Major Crash Investigation Unit is investigating the crash, said highway patrol Sgt. Scott White. The patrol believes Rubin “purposefully” crossed the median before hitting the couple, White said, because witnesses didn’t see the car swerve or lose control before heading into the oncoming lanes.
“He drove right through the grass median,” White said.