As 2015 winds down we took a look back at the year’s news in St. Pete and came up with a list of the top 10 most memorable happenings. Whether the news evoked outrage in a community, excitement or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of 2015.
No. 8 – Phoebe Jonchuck
Barely a week into 2015, the city was shaken by one of its most tragic and emotional headlines. A 5-year-old girl was thrown from the Dick Misener Bridge approaching the Sunshine Skyway bridge.
To make the news even more horrifying, Phoebe Jonchuck, it was later learned, was still alive when her father, John Jonchuck, dropped her 60-feet from the top of the bridge.
The incident happened in the wee morning hours after Jonchuck was spotted speeding at 100 miles per hour. St. Petersburg police Officer William Vickers stopped him on the bridge. The officer watched in horror as Jonchuck got out the car, pulled his young daughter out and then threw her off the bridge.
Vickers immediately tried to spot the girl in the water from atop the bridge. She was found later a mile away from the bridge near the Eckerd College campus.
Students at Eckerd came together to assist in search-and-rescue operations. St. Pete City Council officially recognized the school’s search-and-rescue team at a meeting in March.
“This was at 1 in the morning and we needed a way to get this little girl back,” St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway said during a presentation. “I’m telling you it was windy, the weather was bad, but they came out right away.”
The 52 student volunteers on the team are unpaid and they don’t receive college credit for their service.
The community remained frustrated as Jonchuck remained unpunished for the brutal murder of his daughter because of his psychiatric state. Jonchuck was ruled incompetent to stand trial for the first-degree murder charge. He still has not been brought to trial.
The murder elicited an emotional response from residents with many venting their outrage on Facebook. Photos circulated of the girl, the most heart-wrenching of all was her in an angelic Halloween costume.
Tragic occurrences are not uncommon in the news, but none this year have been as hard to swallow as this innocent and unnecessary loss of life.
Phoebe Jonchuck’s death could have been avoided. Custody disputes between her father and mother left a judge torn between placing the girl with a father who had a history of domestic violence including toward his daughter and her mother, a known meth user. He remains in court custody in a hospital.