Tragedy strikes again on Columbia’s Route 3

Stacie K.Thoma

For the second time this year, a crash on Route 3 in Columbia has claimed the life of a local woman following a two-vehicle crash that occurred about 8:36 p.m. Sunday at Route 3 and Veterans Parkway, police said.

Columbia Deputy Chief of Police Jason Donjon said Stacie Thoma, 37, of Columbia, was driving a 2002 light-colored Buick sedan east on Veterans Parkway across Route 3 toward Columbia High School when a white 2010 Ford F-150 driven by Michael Vanderschans, 33, of Winfield, Mo., collided with the Buick.

Both drivers were transported by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis, where Thoma was pronounced dead. A passenger in the pickup truck, Coleen Wyatt, 29, of Winfield, Mo., was also transported to the hospital. The injuries to Vanderschans and Wyatt are not life-threatening, police said.

According to witnesses on scene, the driver of the pickup truck ran a red light before colliding with the Buick, police said.

Pictured is a special cake baked by Thoma’s co-workers at Schnucks Market Place in Columbia. (submitted photo)

Police said witnesses reported that the driver of the pickup truck ran a red light at the intersection before colliding with the Buick.

Route 3 was closed for four hours while police reconstructed the accident, which remains under investigation.

Thoma was leaving her job in the bakery at Schnucks Market Place in Columbia when the crash occurred.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Stacie’s family and friends during this very difficult time,” Schnucks Columbia Market Place manager Tom Beckerle said. “Not only was Stacie a very dependable and loyal worker, she was also a compassionate person — putting the needs of her customers and fellow teammates ahead of her own. Stacie will be sorely missed by all here at Schnucks Columbia Market Place.”

Stacie’s co-workers shared similar thoughts, saying she even stayed late at work Sunday night to help make sure her department would not be behind. 

Thoma was scheduled to leave work at 7 p.m.

“She was my favorite coworker, really loving and sacrificing,” Kev Guyton said. “She was one of the only people I knew who was just genuinely good without expecting anything in return.

“We are so saddened. She had just applied for a job she was so excited for. She deserved better than (what) she got in life.”

Schnucks bakery manager Melissa Yvonne also expressed her feelings. 

“I love you Stacie and I…miss your hugs and thoughtful gestures,” Yvonne wrote on Facebook. “She has worked with me for (four) years. Our hearts are broken and so is our team. Stacie was so smart and had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met.”

Thoma was a 1999 graduate of Columbia High School. Among her surviving relatives are father Robert and brother Scott. Funeral arrangements are pending at Lawlor Funeral Home in Columbia.

“Our family is deeply saddened to learn of this tragic accident,” family friend Sandy Sutter said. “We, along with the entire community, offer prayers, love and deepest sympathy to the Thoma family.”

In addition to working at Schnucks, Stacie performed with The Actors’ Attic. A highlight of her career there was when she played the Wicked Witch of the West in a 2015 production of “The Wizard of Oz.” 

“All of us at The Actors’ Attic are a little overwhelmed by all of this,” Actors’ Attic leader MaryBeth Babcock said. “Stacie often told me that she lived for Actors’ Attic summers… She was incredible. And nothing at all like the character suggests. She was kind and sensitive and very much in love with performing. We will miss her.”

This is the second time this year a woman has died at the intersection of Route 3 and Veterans Parkway. 

On Feb. 27, 41-year-old Emily Webb died after the family’s SUV was struck by a dump truck. Her six children were also injured to varying degrees of severity.

For one of Webb’s siblings, Sunday’s fatal crash brought back painful memories. 

“I didn’t post much at the time because our family was in shock and grieving, but waking up today and seeing the news that another horrific accident happened at the same place just has me so pained and sick to my stomach,” Abby Peters-Click wrote on Facebook. “We all have lives that are happening every day and every minute of every day we have something going on or a place to be…. Slow down, be respectful when driving and just plain pay attention. I have to relive the pain everyday I drive through that intersection.” 

Since the fatal crash in February, the Columbia Police Department and Illinois Department of Transportation have taken steps in an attempt to improve safety along Route 3.

Rumble strips have been installed at the north and south ends of town. Reflective strips  and bright yellow signs reading “NOTICE” have also been installed on speed limit signs along the road. 

Additionally, bump-outs have been added to provide police officers a safe place to pull over motorists who break the law.

Those may often be used by the new Route 3 traffic enforcement officer in Columbia, who patrols the road. In his first four weeks on the job, this officer wrote 178 citations, only eight percent of which went to Columbia residents.

“We’ve significantly increased our enforcement in that area (since the last fatal crash),” Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul said. “It’s very unfortunate.”

IDOT is also currently working on a signal coordination and timing study, which involves an unbiased third party conducting an analysis of the timing, length and synchronization of Route 3 traffic signals in Columbia.

IDOT must complete the study before taking any drastic measures with elements like stoplights on Route 3. 

(Andrea Saathoff contributed to this story)

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