Aunt and uncle of victim in fatal car crash feel charges against driver are justified
SUNBURY - An aunt and uncle of the late Jared J. Wood would like to forgive Aaron W. Rothermel for the January 2013 death of their nephew, but considering some of the charges, including two counts of driving under the influence of a controlled substance, they can't.
"I know he didn't drive a knife in his back, but he was behind the wheel," said Joey Carmen, 37, who was with her husband, Edward, at a hearing for Rothermel Tuesday.
The proceeding in front of Magisterial District Judge Benjamin Apfelbaum was continued because the arresting officer mixed up the date. It was rescheduled for 1 p.m. March 4.
Rothermel, 22, was driving a 1998 Nissan Sentra west on Schwaben Creek Road (Route 3010) near Leck Kill in Upper Mahanoy Township Jan. 19, 2013, when the vehicle went off the west shoulder and struck a tree with its front passenger side, state police reported.
Wood, 18, of Trevorton, a passenger in the vehicle, suffered fatal injuries and died the next day at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.
"One choice ended it all," Joey Carmen said.
The last 13 months have been stressful for the family with Jared's death and other relatives' passing, the Carmens said.
Jared's mother, Heidi Whitley, moved to South Carolina two weeks ago to escape the heartache; his father, David Wood, remains in Las Vegas, they said.
"It's hard, especially around this time," said Edward Carmen, 29.
The family is trying to keep Jared's memory alive: Joey Carmen runs a Facebook group called Jared James Wood-A Celebration of Memories, which currently has 810 likes, and Edward Carmen designs T-shirts in his nephew's honor.
The couple, married since 2007, have six children; their youngest, 2-month-old Emmi, was with them Tuesday. They always considered Jared like another child.
"He was always energetic, always the life of the party," Edward Carmen said.
Scene of the crash
In court documents filed Feb. 20, Trooper Daniel Wilk of the Stonington State Police barracks said he was dispatched to the scene of the crash on Route 3010 at 5 p.m. Jan. 19, 2013.
"The section of roadway where this crash occurred is straight and level. There were no adverse weather conditions, nor artificial street lighting utilized on this portion of the roadway," the trooper said.
Upon arrival, the trooper said he saw Rothermel being treated in the back of an ambulance, a 17-year-old Trevorton male passenger standing on the shoulder with emergency personnel and Wood being transported via Life Flight to Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.
Rothermel, interviewed at the scene, said Wood threw a bouncy ball at a traffic sign moments before the accident. He said he looked at the radio, and when he looked back up, the vehicle was traveling toward the tree, according to police.
He attempted to avoid hitting the tree, but was unsuccessful, police said.
While Wilk reported the right rear passenger window was open, it is not clear whether Wood's head was out of the vehicle when the accident occurred.
Rothermel admitted he was on probation for DUI and used marijuana two days before the accident, police said.
He provided a blood sample for testing at the Sunbury Community Hospital, which came back positive for traces of THC, police said.
Police said none were wearing seat belts.
Prodigal Garage transported Rothermel's vehicle to the state police station where Wilk said a small black box containing marijuana residue was removed and placed into evidence.
At approximately 6 p.m. Jan. 20, 2013, Wilk interviewed the 17-year-old passenger at the police station in the presence of his parents.
The teen said that Rothermel told him and Wood to throw objects at his ex-girlfriend's house, located along Route 3010, police reported.
A CD and a ball were thrown out the window, but the objects landed in the yard and never hit the house, the teen told police.
The teen said he looked at his cell phone to check for service; when he looked backed at the road, he saw the tree and told Rothermel, who was unable to avoid hitting it at approximately 50 mph, police reported.
He initially told Rothermel to leave the scene, thinking they had only lost a mirror, according to court records.
However, the teen said he looked in the backseat and "saw Wood sitting up straight and then fall across the backseat lying on his back," police reported.
Blood was coming from Wood's face, nose and ears, he told police.
They stopped to render aid and asked neighbors to call for help, the teen said.
"I can't go to jail," Rothermel allegedly said.
The vehicular homicide charge is a third-degree felony. Rothermel is also charged with misdemeanors of possession of a small amount of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, two counts of driving under the influence of a controlled substance, involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly endangering another person.
Summary offenses filed against Rothermel are registration card not signed, disregard of traffic lane, careless driving, reckless driving and failure to use a safety belt.
Asked if the charges were justified, Joey and Edward Carmen, who plan to be at every court proceeding, said yes.
"He'll get his," Edward Carmen said.