Saturday, February 9, 2008
Year's wait for justice adds to pain
Tioga Co. woman's family hopes driver of fatal runaway trailer will be found.
JACKSON TOWNSHIP -- It has been a year, and the days still come hard.
Things are likely to stay that way until police find and charge the person whose negligence killed Rhonda Fromm and whose lack of accountability enraged her family and confounded law enforcement officers.
One year ago today, a runaway trailer crossed Route 287 at Hammond Lake and smashed into a 1997 Dodge Intrepid driven by Rhonda, killing her instantly. Husband Mike Fromm, in the front passenger seat, escaped serious injury.
To make matters so much worse, the trailer turned out to be stolen. The driver of the pickup truck that had been towing it took off, leaving Rhonda dead in the road and her children, Leon, now 15, Karissa, 13, and Brooke, 8; Mike; and her parents, David and Eloise Stewart, to grieve in agony.
"I think this amounts to murder," said Leon, a sophomore at Williamson High School in Tioga Junction. "Most people would call it manslaughter, because it was a quote, accident, unquote. But to me it's murder. When he drove away, it was no longer an accident.
"This guy is not just a thief, he's a murderer," Leon said. "He needs to be put away and put into an institution where he can be educated. He needs to be taught respect for other human beings. He's cold and thoughtless. He isn't even thinking about the family of the woman he killed.
"Bitter?" Leon asked. "Yes, I'm bitter, Shouldn't I be? Someone killed my mother, and he won't admit it and police can't find him."
Mike Fromm worked the midnight shift at Ward-ACP just a few yards from the Somers Lane Mobile Home Park, where they lived. He and Rhonda had driven to Wellsboro to pay real estate taxes.
Mike, a little drowsy from his work shift, wasn't paying close attention to the traffic on Route 287. It was a Friday, and they talked about the weekend. Going to Corning. Chinese food. Relaxing.
Then a southbound pickup truck approached, towing a heavy, homemade, dual-axle trailer. No safety chains attached the trailer to the truck, and one mile north of Ives Run, on a straight stretch of road, truck and trailer separated.
Mike just remembers a dark shape coming at them, and thinking that maybe the car would just demolish the trailer and keep on going. It didn't.
The trailer hit the Intrepid near the left front tire, utterly destroyed the driver's side of the vehicle and flipped it onto its roof.
Mike started screaming Rhonda's name, looked at her and knew immediately that she was dead.
Now, he raises her children, by a previous marriage, and wonders what will come next.
What came next for Leon was a YouTube page (www.youtube.com\itchirosakamori), that includes still pictures of Rhonda and video from his computer.
"It has had a lot of views," Leon said. "A lot of condolences. But no tips or anything like that."
Karissa goes to school. She twirls the baton for the Laurelettes. And misses her mother.
"I think about her every day," she said. "I think about the fun things we did together. How much I loved her. And how much I miss her."
Brooke is the shy one. She doesn't say much, especially to strangers. But there's pain in her eyes, too.
Police continue to follow leads. But so far, nothing has turned up the driver. Rhonda's father said police told him they had found the man who stole the trailer from Stage's Equipment, near Tioga, about two weeks before the crash.
But the investigation showed that he was in a downstate jail on the day of the accident, so he could not have caused it. He told police that he had stashed the trailer behind a Tioga-area storage business. He has not been charged with any crimes related to the alleged theft.
"The police have dismissed him as a suspect at this point," David Stewart said. "Apparently somebody picked that trailer up at the storage place and moved it on the day of the accident. That's what the police have told me.
"It has been frustrating," he said. "But I know they can't do miracles."
A year after the crash, the family clearly wants results. Leon believes that the people involved may be methamphetamine users. Rhonda's mother just wants it to end.
"They have followed every lead they can," Eloise Stewart said. "And it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. We have called everybody -- the senator, the governor -- to try to get this solved. We need to know who did this. We need to know what happened. We need to have some closure."
George W. Wheeler, who will take over as Tioga County's district attorney in January, would like that, too. Every work day, he drives by the crash scene twice.
"The investigation is still active," he said. "And it will remain active as we continue to seek the person who did this. We are continuing to seek any information from the public that we can get, whether the person providing it thinks it's important or not. We are looking for any leads we can get.
"Somebody knows something," he said. "It's our goal to find that person."
The family's goal is to be at peace. That may be difficult to achieve as long as the person who killed Rhonda Fromm remains free.
Mike Fromm and Rhonda's children moved this week from the mobile home court to a big new house four miles away in Jackson Township, around the corner from the Stewarts, from where Rhonda grew up. They each have their own bedroom, and the forest for a neighbor.
And they will go on, day to day, still wondering and waiting.
"Some days are really, really hard," Eloise said. "I think about her every day. I just hope there's justice. I really hope that."
Friday, February 8, 2008
YouTube - The Death of a Mother : I Just Want You(Ozzy Osbourne)
About This Video
On October 27th 2006 34 Rhonda Fromm was killed... (more)
Added: January 01, 2007
On October 27th 2006 34 Rhonda Fromm was killed on route 287 in Tioga County, PA when an oncoming trailer unhitched from a truck and forced a head-on collision with her vehicle sending her over the guard rail. My step fater survived with minor injuries to his arm, but my mother was killed at the scene and the driver of the truck kept driving. Its been 2 months, and the reward for any information leading to an arrest has been raised to 10,000 dollars. This video is to release the story, and to also express my feelings about her death. Its been so hard without my mother, i have only known her for 14 years and it doesnt seem like i could have ever said "I Love You" enough.
She loved Ozzy Osbourne to peices, so i decided to make I Just Want You the theme to this video. (less)
The midnight-to-9 a.m. shift at Ward ACP Manufacturing in Lawrence Township had passed quickly for Mike, and he returned to his family's double-wide home at nearby Somers Lane Trailer Court and found that Rhonda, who earlier had gotten her three children off to school, had dozed off.
"I can see her sleeping there now," Mike said. "But she's gone."
It was Friday, Oct. 27. They had planned to go to the Tioga County Courthouse in Wellsboro, 20 miles away, that morning to pay their real estate taxes before an Oct. 28 deadline.
Mike thought about going alone and letting Rhonda sleep. But he had promised to wake her, so he did, and she drove their 1997 Dodge Intrepid to Wellsboro.
They paid their taxes and turned back toward Tioga, driving north through bright fall sunshine, planning for the weekend.
Mike, drowsy from his midnight shift, wasn't paying close attention to the traffic on Route 287. He and Rhonda talked back and forth.
"She asked what we were going to do on Saturday, because we both had that day off," Mike said.
"I was just kind of thinking about it, about the options. I thought we might go to Corning and get some Chinese food. Or just sit home and relax."
A pickup truck hauling a heavy, homemade -- and stolen -- dual-axle trailer was heading south on 287, just north of the Ives Run Recreation Area access road.
There was a major equipment auction nearby, and Mike figures that the truck driver believed he could move the stolen trailer through the area without raising suspicion because of all the other trailers on the road.
Not a bad plan. But no safety chains attached the trailer to the truck, and one-half mile north of Ives Run, on a straight stretch of road, the trailer and the truck separated.
"I saw the trailer out of my peripheral vision," Mike said.
"This dark shape. He must have been going 70 or 80 miles an hour. Everything happened so fast. I realized there was not time to go around it, and I thought, maybe we will just blow through the trailer. But it was too heavy."
The trailer hit the Intrepid near the front left wheel and utterly destroyed the driver's side of the vehicle. The crash flipped the car onto its roof.
"There was the crash, the impact," Mike said. "I went forward. There was skidding of metal on blacktop.
"At first I didn't realize we had gotten flipped upside-down. I crawled out through the back window. I realized I was still alive. I started screaming Rhonda's name. I looked over at her and I knew right then she was gone."
Rhonda Fromm died instantly of massive head, chest and pelvic injuries.
The driver of the truck never stopped. Instead, he drove away and disappeared, leaving a broken family, a mystery for police and an act of cowardice of enormous proportions.
From neighbors to nightmare
Mike and Rhonda were neighbors, she divorced with three children; he, in the process of divorce, no kids of his own.
An e-mail romance and warm coffee became something more. That was six years ago.
Mike worked midnighters at Ward; Rhonda worked part-time at Smokin' Joe's tobacco shop just up the road, "because she felt good about helping out, about getting her own paycheck," Mike said.
It was a simple family, with simple pleasures and humble dreams. Now, a nightmare.
Mike, a Granville Summit native, loves Rhonda's children, Leon Rockwell, 15; Karissa Rockwell, 13, and Brooke Rockwell, 8.
He has legal custody of them, he's raising them and he wouldn't have it any other way. And it's tough.
He works midnighters so he can spend time with the children, students at R.B. Walter Elementary School and Williamson Junior-Senior High School.
But they have to get themselves up for school, make breakfast, get on the bus. There's no Mom to help.
Maybe she knew what was coming.
"It's weird," Mike said. "She always talked about it. She got all worried about it. Whenever there was a (fatal) crash, she got all hurt. What if she died in a car crash, she said. Who would take care of her kids?
"I told her I would and to stop talking about it," he said. "I told her to stop it."
Cops, courts wait for clues
Police combed the accident scene for clues. They impounded the trailer.
Shortly, investigating Trooper Jeff Crum found that the offending trailer, as well as another one, had been stolen two weeks earlier from Stage's Equipment near Tioga.
But there were no uninvolved eyewitnesses to the crash, no good descriptions of the truck.
Not much to go on, despite an aggressive investigation that has even involved Pennsylvania Crimestoppers, which has provided statewide publicity and offered a $2,000 reward.
"We get leads to follow up on," Crum said. "But nothing substantial yet. It has been kind of dead lately. We still have some follow-ups to do.
"There were no eyewitnesses," he said. "No one has come forward yet with information.
"But it seems unusual for it to be stolen from Stage's and then be involved in a fatal crash four-and-a-half miles away two weeks later.
"Somebody in this rural area knows something -- something they're not saying yet. Someone saw something," Crum said.
The driver of the truck likely faces serious criminal charges. Among the likeliest: motor vehicle homicide; involuntary manslaughter; leaving the scene of an accident involving death and possession of stolen property.
George W. Wheeler, Tioga County assistant district attorney, said his office would prosecute the case as diligently as possible, once an investigation confirmed that a crime had been committed.
"The District Attorney's Office joins with state police in encouraging anyone with information on this incident to come forward and reveal it to us," Wheeler said.
"It appears with the evidence that we have now that a crime has been committed. We just need to identify a suspect."
'Just luck. Bad luck'
For the Rockwell children and Mike Fromm, life goes on.
It does not get easier. Workers at Ward sent Christmas presents and cards and set up an education fund for the kids.
Christmas, Rhonda's favorite holiday ("She loved to spoil those kids," Mike said.) was quiet.
Mike wants to find the person who "killed a mother and wife whose family loved her more than anything." And he wants justice.
"I don't have violent feelings toward the person," he said. "Maybe I would if I was younger. I just want to ask him why he didn't stop.
"This guy is a real loser," he said. "He even stole an old trailer.
"Sometimes I think the whole thing is going to go away," Mike said.
"But then I know it's not. I know it happened and I have to live with it and do the best I can for these kids."
Maybe even win the lottery for them. Mike identifies with the lottery.
"That's what happened on Oct. 27th," he said. "It's the same thing as the lottery. It was just luck. Bad luck.
"If we were two seconds faster or two seconds slower, or if we had stopped for coffee, my wife would still be alive," he said. "My kids would still have their mother."
Reward awaits tipster
Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers and family members of Rhonda Fromm are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person driving the truck that towed the utility trailer that killed her. Crime Stoppers is offering $2,000 and the family has put up $8,000.
Anyone with information can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-4-PA-TIPS or State police at Mansfield at 570/662-2151.
Callers' identities may remain confidential.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Last Update: 12/17/2006 5:35:47 PM
A Northern Tier family says people are coming forward with new information on a deadly hit and run that killed Rhonda Fromm of Lawrence Township.
In October, Fromm was driving along Route 287 in Tioga Township with her husband. State Police say a trailer unhitched from a dark colored pick-up truck. It struck Fromm’s car, flipping it upside down and sending into a guardrail. The lose trailer skidded to a stop, but the driver drove off. Rhonda Fromm died at the scene. Her husband survived with injuries.
Last week the Fromm family pooled together eight thousand dollars of their own money, adding to a two thousand dollar reward. They’re hoping that ten thousand dollars will help them find the driver. Since they increased the reward, the family says people have been calling with tips. All of that information is being turned over to Pennsylvania State Police.
Rhonda’s fourteen year old son, Leon Rockwell said, “This guy needs to get caught. He crushed my family. He murdered my mom.”
This Christmas will be the first time Rhonda’s three kids won’t have their mother there.