STUARTS DRAFT — Friends and teachers described Brayden Stiltner, a senior at Stuarts Draft High School who died Monday, as a positive person that never met a stranger.
On Sunday night about 10 p.m., Brayden was driving his Jeep Wrangler on Route 11 when he hit a deer. Virginia State Police say he lost control of the Jeep and ran off the right side of the highway, struck an embankment and overturned.
He was taken to UVa Medical Center in Charlottesville where he died of his injuries the next day. Brayden, who lived in Stuarts Draft, was only 18 years old.
Brian Curry and Jada Woods, both seniors at Stuarts Draft High School, were two of Brayden’s best friends. Heather Carter, a science teacher at Stuarts Draft High School, taught him in 2017. The three spoke of how important he was to them and how his death is impacting the community.
“Brayden always had a smile on his face,” Carter said. “It’s like he never had a bad day. He kept a positive attitude, very cheerful, very accepting of others. He was full of himself, full of live, stubborn, kind and empathetic.”
Carter developed a special relationship with Brayden because his siblings were friends with her sons.
“He’d come by and visit me, ask about my son and tell me about his truck and his tattoos,” she said. “There was always a story with Brayden. Just last Thursday I heard a thud on the door and he was at the glass smiling at me.”
Woods grew up with Brayden. The two attended school together since kindergarten at Stuarts Draft Elementary School.
“Growing up with him was quite an experience,” Woods said, smiling fondly. “He was a pain. He would argue with a brick wall. He was sarcastic. He was always there for everyone. He never met a stranger and he was always respectful.”
Woods spoke of one year when she went to Wilson and not Draft.
“He was still there for me,” she said. “There was never a time we stopped talking.”
Curry met Brayden in sixth grade.
“Brayden, on the first day of school, walked up to me and from then on we were best friends,” Curry said. “I had never met him and he walked up to me like he always knew me.”
Brayden loved his Jeep. He also enjoyed fishing and hunting. He attended Valley Career and Technical Center for diesel mechanics and was often covered in grease.
“His favorite thing to do was muddin’,” Curry said. “If we saw mud, best believe he would hit it.”
The loss of Brayden has hit his friends hard.
“Every time I think of him, I picture this kid with a smile on his face; his eyes lit up,” Carter said. “I just broke down. Brayden held a place in my heart second only to my own children. Brayden felt like one of my own. I haven’t seen something hit the student body as much as this has. He was just that person. He was friends with everyone.”
On Monday, a ride was hosted in Brayden’s honor. The Augusta County Sheriff’s Department escorted the cars.
They rode to the site of the wreck and laid items down for Brayden. His father, who spoke, reminded the drivers to stay safe. Carter said the procession was about three miles long with at least 160 cars.
Shirts and bracelets are being made in Brayden’s honor with #StiltnerStrong. Plans are in progress for a memorial at his parking spot on Friday at the school and another memorial ride after the funeral Saturday.