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Top St. Pete headlines in 2015: No. 8 – Phoebe Jonchuck

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

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.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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