Family witnessed Missouri woman's fatal Maui fall

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 | 3:43 p.m. CST

WAILUKU, Hawaii — A Missouri preschool teacher who died on New Year's Day after falling from a Maui waterfall was on vacation with her family, who witnessed her death, police said.

Susan Stephens of Chesterfield, Mo., was in Maui with her three daughters and husband to celebrate his 50th birthday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

"It was very unfortunate for the family to be present and experience something that tragic," said acting Maui police Lt. William Gannon of the Criminal Investigation Division.

Stephens, 46, was about to jump into a pond below a waterfall but slipped and fell about 25 feet. She landed on some rocks and suffered massive head injuries. An autopsy earlier this week ruled the death was an accident.

Stephens was "very adventurous" but not the type of person who "goes out and does crazy things," said the head of the Missouri school where she worked.

"It was really just an accident. Lots of people were doing what she was doing," said Melissa Tarantino, director of the Chesterfield Presbyterian Church Preschool. "She just slipped and fell."

Tarantino said Stephens' husband, Bob, and daughters Rachel, 21, Kristen, 18 and Grace, 13, "really enjoyed being together as a family."

Stephens made her students feel loved and had a "very sweet and gentle spirit," Tarantino recalled. "That'll be definitely a big hole for us at the preschool and the church."

Stephens had gone on Christian missions to Kenya and elsewhere and was planning a relief trip to Haiti, Tarantino said.

The waterfall is about 2 miles off Hana Highway in an area called Bamboo Forest Trail.


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