COBB COUNTY, Ga. — There were 21 911 calls into Cobb County dispatch on the morning of Dec. 31 when Kristin Stiltner, 27, rear-ended a truck, lost control of her vehicle and spun out facing the wrong way on I-75 near the Canton Road Connector.
That started a chain of events that would turn deadly.
The driver of the Ford F-150 that Stiltner struck left the scene of the accident. Marietta police said Dennis Long, 52, of Morrison, Tennessee, got in touch with police after learning they were looking for him.
Long told police he didn’t notice any major damage to his vehicle and was unaware of what happened to Stiltner. Police said he will not be charged.
Marietta police Officer Jared Rakestraw said Stiltner was trying to move her 2011 Honda Accord when a car driven by Candace Brown, 38, of Conyers collided with Stiltner’s car. In the meantime, Stiltner got out of her car and stood on the shoulder, at the center median wall.
“In a split-second decision, while she’s facing the wrong direction on the interstate, her instincts said to get out of her car. Unfortunately, that choice is what ultimately caused the final crash which cost her her life,“ said Marietta police Officer Chuck McPhilamy, who also serves as the department’s public information officer.
McPhilamy said that while Siltner was standing on the shoulder, her disabled car was hit by two other cars: a Chrysler Sebring driven by Nicole Parrett, of Cuthbert, and an Audi Q7 driven by Olayiwola Owodunni, 40, of Acworth.
Stiltner was pinned between the median wall and the car driven by Parrett. She would later die from her injuries at Kennestone Hospital.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Wendy Halloran obtained one of the 911 calls. It reveals Brown was frantic and wanted to get out of her car, but a calm dispatcher convinced her not to. Police said that protected her from other vehicles striking her or her children.
“Stay in your car as long as it’s safe to do so. I know you guys are probably in a bad spot by the other callers that are calling in. Try to stay in your car as long as it’s safe to do so because I don’t want you out on the interstate," the dispatcher said.
Brown can be heard crying through most of the nearly five-minute call.
“Everybody is out," she told the dispatcher.
“Ma’am, listen to me. Ma’am, take a deep breath. I want you to listen to me. I understand you’re scared and you’re hurt. Just listen to me for a minute for your kids, OK?” the dispatcher said.
She kept reiterating how critically important it was for Brown and her children to stay put and that police and emergency responders were on their way. It’s unclear if the dispatcher knew at that point that Stiltner was clinging to life.
"I need you to stay in the car because if you’re in the car it’s gonna help absorb if another car hits you. Do not get out of your car," the dispatcher said.
Brown listened to the dispatcher and all of the people involved in the crash were treated at Kennestone Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
McPhilamy said he doesn’t know if Stiltner would have survived the crash if she had stayed in her car.
“Her car was facing the wrong direction and if cars are coming at 50, 60, 70 mph, I can’t say whether she would have survived that crash or not, but being inside that vehicle gives her at least the option of survival where being out, certainly our bodies aren’t made to handle that sort of impact," he said.
Channel 2 Action News tried to contact Stiltner’s family, but did not get a response. We are told she leaves behind a young daughter. A Facebook post, presumably from a relative, asks for prayers for her family.
“My heart goes out to the whole family. Certainly in that moment, her body said, 'I have to get out of this.' She’s sitting in a car facing the wrong direction on the interstate, watching cars coming at her head-on. I understand the panic there and I don’t know whether staying in the car would have saved her life, but putting her out now on the side of the interstate, it’s just, it’s so much safer inside the vehicle than it will ever be to be standing on foot on the interstate,” McPhilamy said.
The Marietta Police Department’s S.T.E.P. Unit is still investigating the accident.
Cox Media Group