By Dave Russell


A Bryson City woman was killed and a Sylva man seriously injured Tuesday, Jan. 4, in a wrong-way head-on collision on U.S. 23/74 just west of the intersection with Skyland Drive.

The call came in at about 9 p.m. according to N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Brook Sanders.

Connie Jean Martin, 64, died on scene after driving her 2000 Isuzu Rodeo westbound in the eastbound lane and hitting a 2021 Chevrolet Equinox driven by Joseph Patrick Stephans, 51, of Sylva, according to the trooper.

Sanders estimated both vehicles were traveling at 55 mph, the posted speed limit on that stretch of road, at the time of the collision.

Stephans was transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville by a Mountain Area Medical Airlift helicopter, suffering lower extremity injuries. There were no passengers in either vehicle.

Eastbound traffic was backed up until about midnight, Sanders said.

In addition to the NCHP, units from Harris EMS, Balsam Fire and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office were on scene.

Weather was not a factor.

According to his wife, Marge Stephans, Joe Stephans was on his way home when the crash occurred.

Marge Stephans received a call from her husband at about 6:30 p.m. and expected him home an hour later, she said. He called again later, giving her an ETA of 30 minutes.

Marge Stephans tried to track the Equinox her husband was driving via her smartphone, but it was not visible in the app.

“It was gone,” she said. “I thought ‘What happened to my car?’”

She took the couple’s dog out for a walk and could hear sirens.

“It went through my mind right at 9 o’clock, ‘Something happened to Joe,’” she said. 

Her phone buzzed with multiple calls from a number she did not recognize. Her robocall-killer phone app had been blocking the calls.

Getting worried, she called the number.

“This guy goes ‘Your husband has been in a very bad car accident and we’re flying him to Mission,’” Marge Stephans said. “While I was on the phone, a car pulled up and I thought, ‘Someone is playing a dirty joke.’” 

The car was a deputy from the Sheriff’s Office who confirmed the bad news.

“Joe was sitting up talking” on Monday, according to his wife. His memory of the events is fuzzy, and he has a long road to recovery, she said.

A GoFundMe.campaign to aid the couple can be found by searching on “Joe & Marge” at