SALT LAKE CITY — One family donated 2,000 stuffed animals to the Utah Highway Patrol on Thursday in memory of their daughter.
Stacie Gray died in an automobile accident in 2003 at the age of 24. Her mother, Jan Gray, began a tradition of publishing a poem in their local newspaper every year on the anniversary on her death, but decided they wanted to do something bigger to commemorate and honor their daughter's life.
"This year being the 10-year anniversary, my sister suggested that maybe we could donate some stuffed animals to the Utah Highway Patrol, because Stacie loved kids," Jan said.
The Gray's got the idea to collect and donate stuffed animal toys because of another car accident that Stacie's sister was involved in four years after Stacie died. At the scene of the accident, UHP troopers gave the children stuffed animals to calm their nerves.
"I can't help but think in the future, people will wear their seat belts more often because of that little stuffed animal they received way back when."
At the beginning of the year, the Grays set up a Facebook page, "Sharing Stacie's Love" asking for donations.
"The stuffed animals came from everywhere, all over the country and Canada," Jan said. "People have been so great."
The family originally set a goal to collect and donate 500 stuffed animals, but they received over 2,000.
"She would be tickled," said Stacie's sister, Stephanie Mead. "She would be thrilled. She is probably up there laughing, thinking it's great."
The UHP also hand out stuffed animals to encourage children to wear seat belts, and they reward kids who do. They reported that almost 50 percent of fatalities in Utah occur due to people not wearing seat belts.
"This will last us a good, long time to give to troopers to give out," Lt. Cameron Roden said of the donations. "I can't help but think in the future, people will wear their seat belts more often because of that little stuffed animal they received way back when."
Jan said the donations were a perfect tribute to Stacie because of her love of protecting children.
"When you look at everyone who has donated, I like to think that all of those people have at one point or another thought of Stacie."