A retired sheriff’s deputy tearfully shared Thursday how losing two of his family members in a crash caused by a drunken driver changed his life.
“I had 28 years in law enforcement and I thought I understood and I didn’t. I didn’t know nothing,” Tom Tomasheski, a retired Lorain County sheriff’s deputy, said of the pain he felt after learning his family had been involved in the fatal car crash.
Tomasheski spoke Thursday morning during a press conference to kick off Medina County’s enforcement of the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign.
In June 2011, Tomasheski’s daughter-in-law, Tammy, and 11-year-old grandson, Tommy, were killed in the crash on state Route 83 in Lorain County that also injured his granddaughter, Danielle, and son, who is also named Tom.
“I remember telling my wife (that) Tommy, our grandson, was dead,” he said.
He also had to call other family members and remembers the silence on the other end of the line when he broke the news.
“The effects of drinking and driving reach far,” he said. “My life is changed until the day I die.”
More than 3,000 mourners attended the funeral for Tammy and Tommy, and Tomasheski said he’ll never forget all the people touched by their deaths.
“Everyone was hurting that day, right down to the members of Tommy’s ball team, who just stood in front of his coffin sobbing,” he said.
The man who caused the accident, Gerald Wetherbee Jr., was sentenced to 34 years in prison in 2012 after pleading guilty to charges of aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, vehicular assault, driving under the influence and driving under suspension. Weatherbee had two previous operating a vehicle impaired convictions, and prosecutors agreed to drop charges that he failed to register as a sex offender in exchange for his guilty pleas.
The night of the crash, Tomasheski was called to the scene by a fellow officer. He said he vaguely remembers being hugged tightly by two deputies.
“They told me later that they weren’t hugging me; they were holding me back because I wanted to go to the car and kill the drunk,” he said. “He was a child molester and a rapist, and he got out of jail and killed my family.”
Tomasheski now works as a victim’s advocate with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He said he works with OVI offenders to try to persuade them to change their ways.
“They need to know what this does to friends and families and communities,” he said.
At first, Tomasheski wasn’t sure he could work with OVI offenders because it might be too personal. But after a few talks, he saw tears in the eyes of those he shared his story with.
“I’m having an effect,” he said. “That’s my objective today. I want you to look at me and see the impact this has had on my family.”
The Medina County OVI Task Force will conduct saturated patrols this fall as football season gets underway and the Labor Day holiday approaches.
The OVI Task Force staffs checkpoints throughout the county, operating under a grant that allows agencies to work together.
So far this year, the Medina post of the Ohio Highway Patrol reported 130 OVI arrests have been made in the county.
Brunswick police Lt. Brian Ohlin, who chairs the task force, said while officers always are on the lookout for drunken drivers, the goal of the checkpoints is to prevent drunken driving and raise awareness about the danger.
“We’ve done eight checkpoints so far this year, and we’ll also be out patrolling corridors where we know we make high numbers of drunk-driving arrests,” he said. “We want to get the word out about our checkpoints and get people to change their behavior.”
Lt. Mark Neff, commander of the patrol’s Medina post, said two of the fatal crashes in Medina County this year have been alcohol-related.
“I know if it wasn’t for the partnerships we’ve had, that number would be higher,” he said.
For more on the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, visit www.nhtsa.gov/drivesober.