A Tacoma couple was taking a fellow churchgoer to a doctor’s appointment Wednesday when the woman likely suffered a medical emergency and drove her SUV into a utility truck, killing the three people inside the vehicle and injuring two workers.
Friends said Desiree Stipes, 36, had suffered seizures in the past. Police said the investigation is ongoing, but they believe a medical issue contributed to the crash, which also killed Timothy Stipes, 48, and Gary Gillen, 65.
“They were good, solid people,” the Rev. Rick Cummins of Abundant Life Fellowship said Thursday. “They were part of our family.”
The Stipeses, who were unemployed and looking for work, often drove Gillen to doctor’s appointments and to run errands.
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With a knee replacement surgery coming up, Gillen had an appointment scheduled Wednesday, and the Stipeses volunteered to take him, Cummins said.
Desiree Stipes was driving north in an alley between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South J Street about 10:40 a.m. when her 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer driving began to pick up speed.
The SUV went through several road closure signs and barricades before crossing South 14th Street and plowing into a bucket truck, pushing it about 20 feet into a chain-link fence.
Desiree Stipes and Gillen, who were in the SUV’s front seats and wearing seat belts, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Tim Stipes, who was not wearing a seat belt and in the back seat, was taken to Tacoma General Hospital, where he died less than an hour later.
The worker in the bucket truck suffered significant injuries. The driver of the bucket truck complained of neck and back pain but was not taken to a hospital, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
The SUV, which was a birthday gift from Tim Stipes to his wife this month, was totaled.
The Stipeses have four children — two boys and two girls. The youngest is 12; the oldest is 17.
The couple’s 15-year-old daughter called Cummins on Wednesday afternoon because she wasn’t able to reach her parents. The pastor recalled seeing the wrecked SUV on the news and called police before picking the children up and taking them to youth group.
It was there that the police chaplain told them of their parents’ deaths.
Family members are now caring for the kids and the church is raising money for them.
Gillen attended the church at 5917 S. Thompson Ave. for 25 years and lived about a half mile away. After a life working with fiberglass, he struggled with lung issues and obesity made his bad knees worse.
“Gary could be the sweetest guy but he could be the most cantankerous of guys,” Cummins said. “But we loved him just like he was.”
The Stipeses struggled to find work but decided to get married a decade or so ago once they found God.
“They devoted their hearts to Jesus, and they wanted to do it right,” said Cummins, who married them.
Desiree Stipes studied to become a guard and worked odd jobs at Walmart, as a housekeeper at the church and as a nanny. Tim Stipes was on disability.
They were deeply devoted to their family, loved ones said.
“Tim was like a big teddy bear. He had a big, deep voice,” Cummins said. “He came across as grumpy and gruff at times, but he was a loving daddy and he loved his kids.”
His wife was the more outgoing, upbeat one.
She posted almost daily to Facebook about her blessings and being grateful to wake up each morning. Her grinning face peers out from numerous selfies.
“Desiree was a people person,” Cummins said. “She loved everybody, she was happy all the time.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653