BAXTER COUNTY, Ark. (KARK) – The name Stephen covers all corners of the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department in Arkansas.
“This is grandpa,” Mike Stephen points out in the firehouse. Mike Stephen is the chief. His Dad, wife and sons make up part of his crew.
Mike also works as a deputy for the sheriff’s office in neighboring Stone County.
“I wear many hats,” Stephen says.
But no hat and no training could prepare Mike for what he responded to on Monday night.
“They toned it out, and I heard it,” Stephen says.
A call came through from nearby Baxter County. It was a two-vehicle crash on Highway 177.
“I called my lieutenant and said I feel like I need to go to this, it sounds like a bad accident,” Stephen says.
Moments after getting there, Mike learned a person had died in the crash. The victim was Mike’s 25-year-old son Joe.
A state trooper broke the news.
“There was a ball of officers and we just all kneeled down and prayed,” Stephen says.
Patty Sanders also serves on the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department. She was at the crash site, too.
“I guess you don’t think about maybe knowing the person but not one of us,” Sanders says.
Eight of Joe’s relatives were at the scene in various first responder roles.
Mike tells me Joe also spent some time as a firefighter in Pineville.
The night of the crash, Joe was heading home to check on his girlfriend who’s pregnant with the couple’s child.
“They were so happy,” Stephen says.
Their baby boy, Ryker, is expected to be born on Monday; one week after the crash.
Since the tragedy, residents in area have stepped in to help.
During our interview with Mike, a banner made by a local graphics shop was brought in. It was filled with photos of Joe.
“Oh my goodness,” Stephen says, holding back tears.
Grief consumes this department and others that heard what happened — even if their last name isn’t Stephen.
“Family. Not just the blood,” Stephen says. “The badge.”
Two other people were seriously hurt in the crash. There’s no word on their conditions.
The funeral for Joseph Stephen is set for Friday.