Family, friends and roller derby teammates gathered at Valhalla cemetery in Belleville Wednesday evening to remember a Swansea mother of three killed in a crash along I-55 in Madison County on Oct. 22.
The group that gathered at Samantha Miller’s grave laughed under a nearly-full moon as a strong breeze kept blowing out candles they were trying to light. They blamed her spirit for the wind.
“I gathered everyone here tonight to wish Sam a merry Christmas and to let her know that we all care and love her,” Zoe Monroe, 26, Miller’s younger sister, said.
I can remember more things about my sister now than ever because I want her back and it is killing me that she’s gone. My sister was taken from her three beautiful children, four siblings, a mother and father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews and all of her friends. She was too special to lose
Zoe Monroe, sister of Samantha Miller
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Monroe wept as she spoke about her childhood. “Those days will always be remembered. I can remember more things about my sister now than ever because I want her back and it is killing me that she’s gone,” she said. “My sister was taken from her three beautiful children, four siblings, a mother and father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews and all of her friends. She was too special to lose.”
Miller worked two jobs and raised her three children on her own. Dubbed “a roller derby queen” by Monroe, Miller was a member of the Confluence Crush roller derby team and went by the name “Slam Van Diesel.” Family members said Miller’s teammates quickly became her second family.
“I want to thank all the derby people for all the support they had and the love they showed my daughter,” said Barry Monroe, Miller’s father. “You see how much Sam was loved.”
Sandi Monroe, Miller’s cousin, said she feels Miller every time she laces up her skates.
That’s what she loved to do, and she was my cousin, my ride-or-die, my best friend. I made a promise to her and I have to keep it
Sandi Monroe, cousin of Samantha Miller
That’s because she’s the newest member of the Crush, having joined shortly after her cousin died.
“I just started because of her,” Sandi Monroe said. “She wanted me to join and I didn’t. And after this happened I made a promise to her that I was going to join. So I kept my promise up and now I’m a derby girl with ‘em.”
“That’s what she loved to do, and she was my cousin, my ride-or-die, my best friend,” Sandi Monroe added. “I made a promise to her and I have to keep it. She was well-loved, well-liked. She bent over backwards for anybody. Did what she could.”
According to police reports, Miller, 27, a U.S. Air Force veteran and graduate of Belleville East High School, was outside her Mitsubishi hatchback along I-55 around 8 p.m. Oct. 22. It had broken down and she was checking on the problem. Her three children were in the car. That’s when she was struck by a Chevy Silverado driven by Steven Willis.
Willis, 38, of Maryville, allegedly was drunk at the time of the crash and was charged a day later with a count of aggravated driving under the influence and a count of aggravated DUI that caused a death. Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons called the crash a “horrible, tragic event. Three children are now without a mother due to (Willis’) terrible decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.”
Willis was held on $200,000 bond but posted $20,000 bail and was released.
The News-Democrat later learned Willis had 40 traffic citations since 1994, including at least 25 citations for speeding. He received court supervision in nearly all of his cases, meaning his dozens of citations do not appear on his driving record.
Willis is due in court on the aggravated DUI charges on Feb. 16. Miller’s family said Wednesday they plan to attend that hearing and each one that follows.
In the mean time, Zoe Monroe said the family is taking their loss “day by day.”
“Try to think about the positive things in life. I’ve got the right people by my side, family support,” she said.