The family of a 20-year-old woman killed Tuesday in a crash on Route 54 in Buena Vista Township said she was swerving to avoid hitting a bicyclist when the accident occurred.
Tabitha Stavoli was driving on Route 54 at about 7 a.m. when she approached the intersection of Weymouth Road behind a truck that was waiting to make a left turn, police said.
Melissa Stavoli said police told her that her younger sister was maneuvering around the truck where a bicyclist was approaching on the shoulder. She said her sister swerved to avoid hitting him, which is what caused the accident.
"She saved him and in turn lost her life. It was raining that morning," Melissa Stavoli said.
State Police could not corroborate the story. They said a preliminary investigation shows that for unknown reasons Tabitha Stavoli's car collided with the rear of the truck, whose rear right tire was damaged, and then spun out of the roadway, striking a bicyclist.
Police said the bicyclist, David Woodward, 59, of Collings Lakes, suffered minor injuries.
The accident occurred just down the street from where Melissa Stavoli lives. She said she has to pass the intersection every day while leaving her home.
"I heard the sirens and the commotion down there, but I didn't know. … I didn't know it was her," Melissa Stavoli said Thursday.
She said it was her father who called the morning of the accident to tell her what had happened.
In a family of all girls, Tabitha Stavoli was "daddy's little girl" and the tomboy of the lot, Melissa Stavoli said. "She was the son he never had. She was the youngest of five girls."
The 20-year-old mother had just started a new job and was in the process of getting things together, her sister said.
"Her daughter was the one thing that my sister was most proud of. She was her greatest accomplishment and she loved nothing more than being her mother," Melissa Stavoli said.
She said her sister left Buena Regional High School in order to raise her daughter, Milania Belfi, who is now 2 years old.
"She looks like her, talks like her, she couldn't be more like her mother," Melissa Stavoli said, adding that her sister was in the process of getting a place separately for herself and the child.
Tabitha Stavoli was formerly of Buena Borough but had been living with her mother in Bridgeton. She enjoyed hunting, fishing and riding four-wheelers, Melissa Stavoli said. "We always joked that though (Tabitha's father) didn't get a boy, he got the boy in her. She was a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of girl."
A viewing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. today and 9:15 a.m. to 10:15.a.m. Saturday at Rone Funeral Service, 1110 E. Chestnut Ave., Vineland. The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of The Blessed Sacrament - Church of Our Lady of Victories in Landisville.
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