Stiffer penalty in fatal crash
SUNBURY - Eyes locked on the defendant seated across the courtroom, the father of a Trevorton teenager killed in a car accident demanded the attention of the man responsible.
Aaron Rothermel had mostly looked forward at a wall or down at a table, head rested nervously in his left hand, during a sentencing hearing Monday in Northumberland County Court, at which he was remanded to state prison for between nine months and five years. He turned only when David Wood addressed him directly, saying "I came here to talk to Aaron Rothermel, who won't even look in our direction."
The father of the late Jared J. Wood expressed equal parts anger and grief as he put into words who his son was and what was lost when he died in January 2013, one day after Rothermel drove into a tree on Schwaben Creek Road near Leck Kill, killing Wood, a passenger.
Rothermel had marijuana in his system. The two and a third passenger, 17 at the time, were driving near the home of Jared Wood's ex-girlfriend, with Wood tossing a CD and a ball towards the house when the crash occurred.
The 1998 Nissan Sentra was moving at approximately 50 mph. Rothermel told police his eyes were on the vehicle's radio, and when he looked up he failed to swerve out of harm's way.
Wood was 18 years old.
Rothermel pleaded guilty in April to homicide by vehicle, driving under the influence of a controlled substance and recklessly endangering another person.
A plea agreement had him facing a term of between nine and 16 months in prison. Judge Charles H. Saylor decided on the harsher penalty - nine months to five years - after Wood's parents expressed confusion over the arrangements and disappointment over the terms.
Just prior, the newly installed district attorney, Ann Targonski, arrived to discuss the plea with public defender Ed Greco and Wood's parents in the courtroom during recess. David Wood chided Targonski, saying he'd known little about the details of the agreement, expressing that a harsher penalty would be more appropriate. Targonski relayed that to Saylor when the hearing resumed and before the sentence was imposed.
Assistant district attorney Michael Toomey had been the prosecutor Monday but said he was not involved in the plea arrangements made prior to the hearing.
Who he was
At a packed Christmas party, Jared was a child when he befriended another boy who was mentally challenged. They had never met before, but Jared stuck by his side during the party to ensure he was having fun, that he felt like he belonged and that he was safe amidst the chaos of a child's party. When presents were handed out, Jared waited to unwrap his own, choosing instead to help the boy open his own gift and to help put the toy together.
"That's the kind of kid Jared was, and he grew into a teenager just like that. And that's the kind of man he would have been if you didn't kill him," David Wood told Rothermel.
The 22-year-old had again hung his head in his left hand, using it to rub at his eyes from time to time. Sobs came quietly from the both sides of the courtroom - from those attending on behalf of Jared Wood and from those on behalf of Rothermel.
Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, are all left without a future with Jared Wood, and David Wood is left alone. The nine-year relationship he had with his significant other ended, another loss he said was caused by Rothermel. It couldn't survive the loss of Jared, with David Wood describing himself as a shell of the man he once was.
'Death of me'
Heidi Whitley, Jared's mother, also spoke, tearful as she struggled to describe the loss she's endured. He was wonderful, she said, and he was taken away by carelessness.
"I no longer have anything. I have no happiness, no son to give me grandkids; I have no relationships," she said.
"I just want everyone to understand how much this has affected me, not just the death of my son but the death of me and the death of his father."
Whitley said Rothermel has lacked remorse, that she'd seen none. She hoped the court understood, she said, that Rothermel devastated an entirely family. Destroyed it.
David Wood agreed with Whitley. He cited messages Rothermel sent to friends, asking them to "come out, drink and smoke pot." He quoted another statement of Rothermel deriding house arrest as having driven him crazy.
"That's all there is Aaron, that's all you learned, that it drives you crazy? No remorse," David Wood said. "Good luck with the rest of your life because at least you have your life. We don't have that luxury for Jared."
'I am sorry'
After Jared Wood's parents had finished speaking, and after the seemingly confused details of a plea agreement were discussed for the first of two times, Rothermel spoke.
To Jared's parents, he said, "I am sorry."
And then he choked up, fighting his emotions as he said he wished he could change that night's events. As he sought to explain why he needed his friends around, that he couldn't stand being alone since he struggled daily with thoughts of the accident, David Wood stood up and left the courtroom. Whitley stayed seated, cried, bent forward and nearly put her head between her legs as she was consoled by others.
Rothermel continued, shaking as he spoke, at times rubbing both hands on his face. On a corner of a bedroom mirror, he told the court, photos of those he loved who had died are hung: his grandmother, his dog and Jared.
"Every time I was alone I would think about that night," Rothermel said. "How could I go any further than what I did?"
He said he held himself accountable to run to a neighboring home since he had no cell phone service. He called 911 from a land line. Only after police and paramedics were on the way, "only then did I start freaking out."
Crying and rocking back and forth, he said "I was with him the whole time." And then he leaned forward on the table, ending his statements.
After a brief recess, Rothermel was sentenced to a term potentially harsher than a plea agreement, based on good behavior. He was composed as Saylor ordered him into custody, a sheriff's deputy placing handcuffs around his wrists and leading him away. Left behind were family members, Rothermel's and Wood's.