Columbia social media celebrity died of natural causes before wreck

Originally published in The State newspaper Jan. 11, 2013.

One of the Midlands’ most prolific social media users and advocates died Friday morning.

Jerry Rick Stilwell, a 44-year-old Cayce man, died while driving his 2003 Mini Cooper north on Farrow Road near Flint Lake Road, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said.

Stilwell suffered some sort of medical event while driving the car and likely died before his car crossed into oncoming traffic and struck a Honda minivan and an embankment. Stilwell was transported to Palmetto Health Richland hospital after the wreck and was pronounced dead in the emergency room, Watts said. The driver of the minivan wasn’t injured, state troopers said.

Stilwell, known among Midlands Twitter and Instagram users as @RickCaffeinated, was a friendly and prolific voice in the Columbia social media community, with nearly 4,000 followers and nearly 54,000 tweets. He was the web and social media director at the Blue Cross subsidiary Palmetto GBA, the president of the Columbia Social Media Club and leader of several “Instagram Walks” through Columbia, in which photographers would meet up and capture and upload unique pictures of the city to the social network.

He posted his last tweet at 7:37 a.m., less than 45 minutes before he died.

Chip Oglesby, a former president and founding member of the social media club, said Stilwell has been a fixture in the Midlands social media community since before he showed up to the club’s very first meeting years ago.

“Thousands of people know him,” he said. “He’s the kind of person that was a beacon of how you should act online.”

Those close to Stilwell said he was as good at making and maintaining face-to-face personal relationships as he was forging them online.

Paige Cooper met Stilwell in person at a “tweet-up” – a social gathering of local Twitter personalities – about four years ago and stayed in touch since. She said was also struck by how much he loved his wife, Vicki. The two would often send sweet messages to one another on Twitter.

“You’d roll your eyes sometimes when he and his wife tweeted,” she said. “But the extent of the love they had most people don’t experience.”

Beth Bauldauf, another member of the Columbia Social Media Club, said she got to know him when he showed her how to build a website in exchange for a cup of coffee.

“He didn’t think of himself as an expert,” she said. “Just a good guy sharing his knowledge.”

Already, there has been a groundswell of remembrance of Stilwell and support for his wife and children on social media networks. Oglesby set up a site where people can donate money to his family. And several friends have scheduled to meet up for coffee in his memory.

On Twitter, many of his 3,962 followers have added the hashtag #LiveLikeRick to memorial tweets. George Nicholson III said Stillwell, a coworker and childhood friend, would be pleased and embarrassed by the memorial.

“If someone’s going to hashtag a eulogy of your life, what more could you ask than those three words?”