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When Stephanie was seven years old, her father, who had served in the US Army during the Vietnam War, died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. This affected her deeply and she developed a huge fear of helicopters which she carried through to her adult life. In the fourth season episode "The Child Inside", Stephanie revealed that she was abandoned by her mother and she was raised by her grandmother.
As an adult years later, Stephanie first came to Baywatch as a temporary replacement for Jill Riley, who was on vacation. She immediately began a romantic relationship with Mitch Buchannon and the two became very serious. The relationship ended abruptly when Stephanie left Mitch without explanation.
Stephanie returned to Baywatch in Season Three, this time as a Lieutenant. Mitch was shocked to see her and still harbored resentment towards her for her sudden departure years earlier. Stephanie revealed to Mitch that at the time of their relationship, she was married and wanted to return to her first husband and try to work things out. The marriage eventually did fail and she apologized to Mitch for her actions. Stephanie and Mitch eventually got over their differences and began to form a strong friendship. Despite being close friends, Mitch and Stephanie continued to have romantic feelings for each other, which affected many of their relationships.
In Season Seven, Stephanie and her new husband Tom decided to spend their honeymoon on a boat called the Chance of a Lifetime with Mitch, Neely and a group of teenagers whom they hope to teach about the lifeguard service. Two of the teenagers, Randy and Terry, get into a fight and accidentally break the only radio on the ship. The group is unaware that they are heading into a storm, which leads them to eventually abandon the sinking ship. As Stephanie swims towards the lifeboat, she notices that Trisha (one of the teenagers) is missing, and returns to find her on the cabin floor. As they head toward the deck, a bolt of lightning strikes the mast, which falls onto Stephanie, crushing her. Mitch and Tom make it to her, but her injuries are too severe and she dies in their arms. Mitch is the one who ends up telling Caroline about her sister's death. The funeral takes place the following day, with Mitch delivering the eulogy.