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Rhoades' death

Published March 09. 2010 05:00PM

The homicide trial in the fatal traffic accident which claimed the life of state Sen. James J. Rhoades is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning in Monroe County Court.

Facing various charges is Thomas Patrick Senavitis, 46, of 7735 Pohopoco Drive, Kunkletown. Those charges include homicide by vehicle, two counts of DUI, recklessly endangering another person, and failure to keep right.

The accident happened on Oct. 17, 2008, on SR209 near Brodheadsville. Sen. Rhoades, a Republican, of Mahanoy City, was en route to Pleasant Valley High School to receive an award.

Pleasant Valley officials were going to thank him for securing a $100,000 grant toward renovations of the school district's football stadium.

Rhoades, whose jurisdiction included Brodheadsville, was driving a black 2006 Cadillac on the two-lane highway when it was involved in a head-on collision with a green 1994 Silverado Chevrolet driven southbound by Senavitis. There was a van parked on the northbound shoulder of the road. After the impact between the Rhoades and Senavitis vehicles, the Rhoades car struck the parked van, which was operated by Yamila Yafar and her passenger, Juleanne Steinmetz.

Rhoades died the following morning in Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township. His wife, Mary, was seriously injured in the crash. Both were flown by helicopter to the LVH.

Senavitis also was critically injured. He was flown by helicopter to St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill.

Neither Yafar nor Steinmetz was hurt.

Police said Senavitis had a blood-alcohol level of 0.355 percent when the crash occurred.

It is alleged by police that Senavitis crossed into Rhoades' lane of traffic, resulting in the accident.

The defense of Senavitis is that it was actually Rhoades who crossed into Senavitis' lane of traffic.

Testifying will be an accident reconstruction specialist with the state police.

The reconstruction expert, Trooper Douglas Shook, determined that Senavitis left his lane of traffic and entered the oncoming traffic lane, colliding with the Rhoades' vehicle, according to the affidavit.

A group calling itself Ombudsman and Advocates in Northeastern Pennsylvania for all Victims of Legal Malfeasance has been working with Senavitis on his defense, including reportedly reconstructing the accident scene and disputing the claim of Trooper Shook.

Rhoades had a reputation of being one of the most well-liked lawmakers in Harrisburg. His main agenda was education.

Hundreds of people attended his funeral held at Mahanoy Area High School. In addition, hundreds more lined the funeral procession route from the school to the cemetery in his hometown where he was laid to rest.

At the funeral was apparatus from dozens of fire departments from several counties. He was a member of the Mahanoy City Fire Department and worked diligently on legislation benefiting volunteers.

The prosecutor in the case is Assistant District Attorney Colleen Mancuso.

Senavitis has a public defender, attorney Wieslaw T. Niemoczynski.

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