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Steven Stayner, Who Escaped 7-Year Captivity, Dead In Crash

September 17, 1989

MERCED, Calif. (AP) _ Steven Stayner, kidnapped at the age of 7 and forced to live as the sexually abused foster son of his abductor until he escaped seven years later, has been killed in a hit-and-run traffic accident.

″He sure led a rough life,″ California Highway Patrol Sgt. Bill Balestra said of Stayner, who was returned to his parents less than 10 years ago and was the subject of an NBC miniseries in May, titled ″I Know My First Name Is Steven.″

Balestra said Stayner, 24, married and the father of two children, was killed Saturday when a car pulled into the path of his motorcycle on a highway between Merced and Atwater, some 70 miles east of San Francisco.

Balestra said officers believe they knew the identity of the driver of the car, who abandoned his car two miles away, jumped into another car and fled. He said felony hit-run charges were planned.

The officer said the car had pulled out of a private driveway and crossed in front of Stayner, who then ran into it.

Balestra said Stayner, who the CHP reported had been riding without a helmet, ″suffered massive head injuries″ and was pronounced dead on arrival at Merced Community Medical Center.

In 1972, when he was 7, Stayner was grabbed off a street in Merced while walking home from school. Seven years later, his abductor snatched another boy, 5-year-old Timmy White; 16 days later, on March 1, 1980, Stayner walked into a Ukiah police station with Timmy, saying he didn’t want the younger boy subjected to the same abuse he experienced.

Kenneth Parnell, arrested while working as a hotel clerk in Ukiah, 150 miles from Merced, was convicted of two counts of kidnapping. He was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison in February 1982 after a sensational 18-day trial in Hayward.

Parnell served five years in prison, then was paroled for another two years. Released from parole, Parnell, now 57, is believed living somewhere in northern California. He had previously been imprisoned for sexually abusing an 8-year-old boy he kidnapped in Bakersfield.

While no sex charges were filed against Parnell, Stayner testified at Parnell’s trial that he was ordered to call Parnell ″dad″ during his captivity and that he was regularly sexually abused. He said they lived in California motels and trailer parks during the period.

He said Parnell convinced him a court had awarded him custody because Stayner’s family could no longer afford him. Because he had been taught that adults don’t lie, Stayner said, he believed Parnell’s story and didn’t realize he had been kidnapped.

″I felt a little guilty being the one to turn him in after all he’d given me all those Christmases,″ Steve said in an interview several years later with The Associated Press. ″It was hard to face him.″

Steve’s remorse turned to anger after he returned home to his parents, three sisters and a brother, ″and saw what I had missed out on all those years. Then I felt good about it and proud that I turned him in.″

His parents, however, found that their sunny, obedient 7-year-old had become a tough 14-year-old who liked to smoke, drink, hitchhike and party as late as he pleased. He later ran up $1,100 in traffic fines and lost his driver’s license.

In 1985, Stayner married Jody Edmondson in Atwater. At the time of his death, he and his wife were living with their two children, age 2 and 3.

Stayner had a walk-on role as a Merced police officer in the NBC miniseries, which was broadcast May 21-22.

In April, he told The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: ″My hope with the movie is that some kid sees it and gets up the nerve to tell someone and try to come home.″

He said he had hoped his life would not be depicted as a horror story.

″It was just not that way. I tried to make my life as normal as I could. I had a lot of good times when I was there. I was basically an everyday kid. I got into trouble. I ditched high school. I was like most kids except that I wasn’t with my natural parents.″

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