MICHIGAN CITY — Danielle Leigh Stevens had a “great day” with her sons in Michigan City’s Gardena Park on Sunday, Aug. 4, according to friends and family. The next day, she was fatally struck by an alleged drunken driver.
Things were never easy for the 31-year-old Michigan City resident, according to her ex-husband, Richard King of La Porte.
“Life was hard for her since we’ve been apart, but she saw her sons frequently and was a great mother,” King said. “She always did the best she could in every way.”
Misty Lovelace, a family friend speaking for the family, agreed.
“Danielle was the mother of two wonderful boys. Brody, the oldest at 10 years old, and Bryce, who just celebrated his eighth birthday just days prior to his mother’s death,” she said.
“Danielle was extremely family oriented and her children meant the world to her. Brody and Bryce had just spent time with their mother the day before she passed away and had a wonderful time with her. Memories that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.”
Originally from Hudson Lake, Stevens “led a very, very hard life” from the start, King said, beginning when she grew up in foster care.”
They met 13-14 years ago, and were married, King said. They had their two sons, who “meant everything to Danielle.”
Following the hit-and-run crash that killed her, authorities said Stevens was apparently homeless, and may have suffered from a mental condition.
King said his ex-wife suffered from a bipolar disorder and was “basically homeless” since their divorce.
“She would pay people to live with them – she survived on disability payments – but she would always have to leave after a while. She would not take her medication unless she was forced to, and part of the illness is that, when you take the meds you feel better, and so you stop taking them,” he said.
“Some people who did not know her well thought she was terrible, but others thought she was St. Theresa.”
In spite of her problems, Stevens was always a good mother and a wonderful person, he said.
“She was always a great mom, and one of the most giving people you’d ever meet. She was basically always broke, but she was always a great person.”
He recalled one time when the family was in the park, and a man came up asking for money.
“She had a $10 bill and a $1 bill, and she accidentally gave him the ten instead of the one,” King said. “The man saw what happened and wanted to give it back, but she said, ‘No, you need it more than I do.’ “
King said when he broke the news to the boys, they were devastated.
“A friend told me what happened on Tuesday when I got off work, but I waited until Wednesday to tell them so I could prepare myself. Brody took it especially hard, and said he wanted the guy to go to jail for a long time.
The accident that killed her happened about 7:26 p.m. on Aug. 5, according to Michigan City Police, who were called to the intersection of Michigan and Jackson for a hit-and-run accident involving a pedestrian.
They found Stevens suffering severe injuries, and being administered CPR by a bystander, according to police spokesman Sgt. Chris Yagelski. The first officer on the scene took over administering first aid.
A Michigan City Fire Department report said firefighters arrived to find her lying on her back in the street, with a police officer performing chest compressions. Firefighters continued performing CPR while she was taken by ambulance to Franciscan Health Michigan City, where she was pronounced dead.
La Porte County Coroner Bob Cutler said an autopsy showed Stevens died of “blunt force injuries” from the motor vehicle accident, specifically “fatal neck and head trauma.”
Witnesses said a black Cadillac struck Stevens as she crossed the street in the crosswalk, but the driver did not stop, according to police. Another vehicle followed the car, and its location was reported to officers, Yagelski said.
Minutes later, they located the car in the 300 block of Greeley Avenue, where the driver was identified as 51-year-old Billy S. Morgan of Michigan City, Yagelski said.
He is facing felony charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death, and leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury; and a misdemeanor charge of OWI, according to the La Porte County Sheriff’s Department.
Morgan is being held in the La Porte County Jail on a $50,000 cash-only bond, and is next scheduled to appear in Superior Court 1 on Aug. 27, according to the sheriff’s department.
As the family awaits justice, King said, “I told the boys there was just one more angel watching over them.”
He said in spite of everything, “Danielle was very much loved.”
Lovelace and the family feel the same way.
“Danielle was no vagrant,” she said. “She was a very loving daughter, sister and a friend to all that knew her. I’m sure if you were to ask anyone that knew Danielle they would be happy to tell you that she was one of the most kind, loving and giving individuals that they had ever met.
“But most importantly, Danielle was a mother who was tragically torn away from her family at the young age of 31.”
King said cremation took place last week, and a private family service will be held at a later date.
He said he’d like to personally thank the good Samaritans, police officers and firefighters who worked to save her in those final minutes. Lovelace added, “The family would also like to thank the countless number of people that assisted in trying to help Danielle. Your efforts do not go unseen and are much appreciated.”