June 30, 2016

Partly cloudy

Tragedy hits home for Lorain County Sheriff’s Office member

ELYRIA — Tom Tomasheski responded to hundreds of accidents during his nearly 30-year career as a member of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office.

He said he knows how devastating they could be — how families were torn apart when a crash took a loved one. But he said the intensity of that pain never hit him until Saturday night, when a crash claimed the lives of his daughter-in-law and grandson and left his son and granddaughter clinging to life.

Volunteers placed a memorial posterboard for Tommy Tomasheski III while collecting donations for the family Wednesday at Walmart in Elyria. (CHRONICLE PHOTO BY STEVE MANHEIM)

Volunteers placed a memorial posterboard for Tommy Tomasheski III while collecting donations for the family Wednesday at Walmart in Elyria. (CHRONICLE PHOTO BY STEVE MANHEIM)

“You see these things in law enforcement and you handle them, and you become callous to it,” Tomasheski said Wednesday. “But when it’s you? No one can set that scenario. Our lives are forever changed. They are never, ever, ever, ever going to be the same. But I have to go on and I have to live, because I have a son and a granddaughter left.”

Tomasheski’s son, also named Tom, 38, remained in critical condition Thursday at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. He undergoes surgeries daily to repair the massive internal injuries he sustained, as well as injuries to his legs.

The younger Tomasheski’s 13-year-old daughter, Danielle, also was in critical condition at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and has undergone several surgeries to repair massive internal damage she sustained in the crash. She has a broken vertebrae in her back, which doctors have told the family isn’t that bad.

Neither is out of the woods, but the family and the doctors are hopeful.

“It’s fair to say each is showing bits of improvement every day,” the elder Tomasheski said. “But almost every day, they are in surgery. Almost every day, they are sedated. They are on ventilators. So how do you tell conditions?”

Tammy Tomasheski, 36, and son Tommy III, 11, were killed in the crash on state Route 83 near the Grafton Correctional Facility when Gerald Wetherbee Jr.’s northbound car veered off the right side of the road before crossing the center line and hitting the Tomasheskis’ southbound Honda, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Troopers suspect Wetherbee, who has previous drunken driving convictions and whose driving privileges are suspended for failing to pay child support, may have been drinking. No charges have been filed, and Wetherbee’s condition has been upgraded to fair. He also was being treated at MetroHealth Medical Center.

The Tomasheski family was returning to their Liverpool Township home after spending some time at Beaver Park North marina in Lorain, where the family keeps a boat. They had been up there to watch the sunset and play around on the beach.

The younger Tomasheski was conscious after the crash and gave Trooper A.J. Torres his father’s phone number. The elder Tomasheski and his wife, Debbie, rushed to the scene — arriving to see Danielle being rolled to an ambulance on a gurney.

“I was there in two minutes and I jumped out of my car and ran toward the scene. I touched Danielle and she moaned, so I told Debbie to stay with her,” Tom Tomasheski said. “A.J. grabbed me and he told me Tom was still in there and Tammy had been extracted from the car. He also told me Tommy didn’t make it — so there was no hurry to get him out.”

Since that night, the Tomasheskis and Rick and Vicky Roche — Tammy’s parents — have been bouncing between the two Cleveland hospitals and trying to make funeral arrangements.

A joint service for Tammy and Tommy is today with visitation from 3 to 8 p.m. followed by a funeral service at 8 at Midview North Elementary School’s auditorium, 13070 Durkee Road, Grafton. Burial will be private for the immediate family.

Tom Tomasheski said neither his son nor granddaughter know that Tammy and Tommy are gone.

“They don’t know what is going on, and how are we going to tell them?” he said. “We have to tell them that we had to bury their loved ones; that they missed their mom’s, their wife’s, their brother’s funeral. We’re all at a loss. We’re grieving, and we’re still fighting for those that are alive. What else do you say?”

The Roches, while touched by the outpouring on the family’s behalf, aren’t ready to talk, he said.

“They lost a beautiful daughter and the most beautiful grandson you’ll ever know,” he said. “That is important — that little boy wasn’t a normal little boy. Sure, he was normal in the fact that he played football and basketball and baseball. But he was the kind of kid who’d spend nights with a friend in a wheelchair who couldn’t play those sports. He’d sit there and play cards with him while other kids were laughing at him and making fun of him. That little boy was pure as a driven snow. He was nothing like I was.”

The close-knit family had a fishing outing planned for the morning after the crash, something they did frequently. In addition to Tom, the elder Tomasheski has a younger son, Todd.

“My sons aren’t my sons any more; they are my best friends as are their wives and their kids,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Tom Tomasheski paused frequently as he talked — he was en route to MetroHealth but pulled into a church parking lot because he broke into tears more than once. It is hard to stop them, he said.

“You never run out of them,” he said. “You cry for the hard moments. And yesterday, Danielle opened her eyes — she has the biggest blue eyes — and I said, ‘Can you move your eyes?’ and when she did, well, those were happy tears. Those are the only happy ones I have had.”

He said doctors initially thought they wouldn’t be able to save his son’s right leg due to extensive injuries. The doctors were talking to the family in the younger Tom’s room while he was heavily sedated and they were outlining the course of treatment — how the priority had to be dealing with the internal injuries, which were life-threatening, and that the leg wasn’t vital to saving his life.

That’s when the elder Tom said he implored the doctors to do what they could to save his son’s leg.

“I said I am now speaking on behalf of my son and I know he would want you to do all that is possible to save his leg so he can walk. I know that,” he said. “They said he was out of it and wouldn’t remember anything, but he gave a thumbs up when I said that. He heard.”

He said the Roches and his family are overwhelmed by the efforts of the community to support the family. A fund was set up at First Place Bank to collect monetary donations, there have been vigils and collection efforts and people — neighbors, friends and members of the Sheriff’s Office stopping by and offering to do household tasks such as mowing the grass. The elder Tomasheski retired from the Sheriff’s Office and his son is a corporal there in the corrections division.

Even at the hospital, they’ve had support from strangers and from friends. He said one of the doctors, John Schrock, attended Midview with his son and has visited daily with the family to make sure they have whatever they need while they are there.

He said both families feel badly that they haven’t been able to personally acknowledge all the help they’ve received.

“It gives us strength. We’re struggling with our losses and we’re struggling to keep our kids alive. But it is greatly appreciated. We love them all,” he said. “There’s nobody that can bring back that little boy. And there’s nobody that can bring back his mommy and my son’s wife. But I appreciate their thoughts and prayers. I don’t even know who all to thank.”

He said for those who want to do something, he has a suggestion.

“Hug your damn kids,” he said. “Or, if you are older and haven’t seen your parents lately or you haven’t seen family for some reason, put aside that petty bullshit and hug them and love them. You don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.

“My boys are 38 and 36, and there has never been a day or night they weren’t hugged or kissed. I hug them and I tell them I love them and for that, I am grateful. Everyone should take time to do that, or they’ll be very sorry one day if they don’t.

“Our lives are forever changed. They are never, ever, ever, ever going to be the same. But I have to go on and I have to live, because I have a son and a granddaughter left.”

Contact Julie Wallace at (440) 329-7157 or jwallace@chroniclet.com.

To help

• Donations are being accepted at First Place Bank locations in Lorain County and North Olmsted.
• Volunteers will collect donations 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Grafton Sparkle Market; at the concession stand at Midview North Baseball Field, 11600 Durkee Road, Elyria.
• Community Block Party, 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday and a Youth Rally, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. June 22 at Chestnut Ridge Baptist Church, 38550 Chestnut Ridge Road, Elyria.