Memorial held for recent Yokota grad killed in one-car crash
June 30, 2005
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Steffen Taplin was remembered by family and friends Tuesday as an affable young man whose engaging smile charmed everyone he met.
A large gathering turned out at Yokota’s Traditional Chapel for a moving memorial service honoring the 18-year-old dependent, who died early Saturday in a one-car crash in Saitama Prefecture, about 10 miles north of Yokota. Taplin recently graduated from Yokota High School and worked for two weeks at the base exchange.
He had just received his first paycheck, according to his mother, Master Sgt. Florence Taplin, who delivered Tuesday’s eulogy.
“It’s a very sad day for us, but this should be a joyous occasion,” she said. “I want everybody to be joyous and happy for the time we had to share with him. Thank you for the love and support you all have given us these last few days.”
Steffen Taplin’s 12-year-old brother, Chandler, also attended the memorial, which was marked by an emotional video tribute that included childhood photos of Taplin and written messages from friends and former classmates.
Taplin lost control of his Nissan Skyline and crashed into some trees around 2 a.m. Saturday.
The wreck also claimed the life of a 17-year-old Filipino and seriously injured another who was in the back seat. The two passengers had no ties to the U.S. military.
“Steffen Taplin will live in my memory because of his attitude,” Shawna Vitarbo, a family friend, said during Tuesday’s tribute. “He was never angry, never had a bad word for anyone. And there was always that smile.”
Florence Taplin said her son’s presence brought out blissful feelings in those around him.
“His laugh made everyone laugh, even when it was not funny,” she told the congregation. “Steffen was always dancing or practicing a new dance move, even in the middle of playing video games. His overall craziness and just being his silly self has brought a smile to each of us.
“Thank you, Lord, for giving me the time I had with my son.”
Hanno City Police are spearheading the accident’s investigation, said Capt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman. Base security forces officials are assisting only as needed.
Comer said he could not speculate whether seat-belt use or alcohol were factors in the fatal crash.
“The Japanese police are looking into it. They’re the investigative arm. They’ll let our security forces personnel and the family members know when it’s complete.
“We’re all saddened by this. I just hope there’s a quick solution to it … so the family members have some sort of end in sight.”
A Saitama Prefectural Police spokesman, citing the investigation, declined to comment Tuesday.
Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.