September 14, 2014

Elyria
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Man gets 34 years for crash that devastated Tomasheski family

ELYRIA — Gerald Wetherbee Jr. was sentenced Friday to 34 years in prison for killing Tammy Tomasheski and her 11-year-old son, Tommy Tomasheski, in a June 2011 car crash that also critically injured her husband, Tom Tomasheski, and the couple’s daughter, Danielle.

The prison term was two years shy of the 36-year maximum sentence that Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge could have imposed. But Burge noted that Wetherbee suffers from emphysema and is unlikely to live long enough to be released.

Burge told Wetherbee, 36, that he needs to “get right with God” and make amends for the sins he has committed because of his alcoholism, a disease the judge said he shared with the crying Wetherbee.

Tom Tomasheski and several of his family members spoke before Burge handed down the sentence in the packed courtroom, urging the judge to impose a lengthy prison term.

“I’m not looking for vengeance of the deaths of Tammy and Tommy,” Tomasheski said. “I’m looking to the justice system that I have lived by and served and I believe in to protect us as it was designed.”

Tomasheski, a corporal at the Lorain County Jail, was driving his family in a Honda Civic on state Route 83 when Wetherbee’s speeding Kia Optima veered left of center and hit the Civic head-on.

Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo said a witness, whom Wetherbee sped past moments before the crash, estimated he was doing 90 mph. Wetherbee was traveling faster than 60 mph at the time of the crash, Cillo said, and the Tomasheski’s Civic was going around 55 mph, the posted speed limit.

After the crash, Wetherbee tried to leave the scene, according to witnesses, saying that he “had to get out of here.”

Blood tests later determined that he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.257, well above the legal driving limit of 0.08, Cillo said.

Tom Tomasheski’s father, also named Tom Tomasheski, said he recalled the horror he experienced when he arrived at the scene of the crash. A retired sheriff’s deputy, he had been called by a trooper he knew.

He told Burge of the pain and chaos of the night, days and months that followed. He recalled his wife screaming “no” over and over again when he told her that Tommy was dead. He spoke of seeing the little boy’s body at the hospital, still and without life, and later seeing the same when he saw Tammy Tomasheski’s lifeless body.

The elder Tomasheski said he and his family kept watch over his son and granddaughter as they fought for their lives. He said his son wasn’t expected to survive, and Danielle, now 14, also was at death’s door.

The family patriarch said he lost so much that no one, even those in the community who supported his family, could ever understand the pain.

“Your honor, I will never go fishing with my grandson again,” he said, choking up.

Tom Tomasheski, who nearly lost a leg and still has surgeries to endure as he continues to recover from the injuries he received in the crash, said he will never know the man his son would have become.

“I so badly want to know what this boy was going to accomplish as he grew older and wiser,” he said.

Tomasheski said his wife was his high school sweetheart and had given so much of herself to her community, church and work.

“She was a wonderful mother to my children and wife to me,” he said.

In a letter read to Burge by a relative, Dan Roche, Tammy Tomasheski’s brother, said he hadn’t found forgiveness in his heart.

“She would probably want me to forgive you, but I’m not ready for that,” Roche’s letter said.

Todd Tomasheski, the brother of the younger Tom Tomasheski, said Wetherbee didn’t deserve his freedom.

“Lock this monster up for as long as you can,” Todd Tomasheski told Burge. “None of us want any more blood spilled on account that Gerald Wetherbee cannot control himself.”

He also said he found a letter of apology Wetherbee sent his brother to be insulting. He said it is only right that Wetherbee will have to miss out on things he would have done with his family because of his crimes.

“Enjoy the birdhouses and graduations you will hear of, my family won’t even have that,” Todd Tomasheski told Wetherbee.

Frank Janik, Wetherbee’s attorney, told Burge that his client was genuinely remorseful for what he had done.

“He wants the public and media to know that he is not a monster,” Janik said. “He is a flawed human being. A flawed human being who woke up on June 11, 2011, without any intention of harming, let alone killing, anyone.”

Wetherbee himself acknowledged that his life has been a string of mistakes. He is a convicted sex offender, has two prior drunken-driving convictions and was driving without a license on the night of the crash. Nicole Balek, the owner of the Kia that Wetherbee was driving at the time of the crash, could face criminal charges in the case as well.

Prosecutors dropped charges accusing Wetherbee of lying about where he lived when registering as a sex offender in exchange for him pleading guilty to aggravate vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, DUI and other charges in the crash case.

“I can only just say sorry because I don’t know what else I could ever do,” Wetherbee said.

After the hearing, Tom Tomasheski said he was happy with the sentence.

“This is the legal system that I’ve served and I believed in, so I’m not going to balk,” he said.

Tomasheski also said while he has taken comfort in his faith and the support of his family and the community, he has found renewed strength in a journal of his wife’s that he recently found.

In it, he said, Tammy Tomasheski wrote about death and how those who had passed on should mourn for the living because they had not yet met God.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.