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Rhoades' last words:

  • 20100311-133518-pic-562217738.jpg
    Thomas Senavitis, 46, of Kunkletown leaves Monroe County Courthouse following the first day of testimony of trial involving the head-on accident Senavitis had with state Sen. James Rhoades on Oct. 17, 2008, which resulted in the death of the senator.
Published March 11. 2010 05:00PM

Sen. James Rhoades never had a chance to tell his wife goodbye.

His last words to her were, "We're just about there. Five minutes or so."

It was a response to a question that his wife, Mary Edith, asked him en route to Pleasant Valley High School where he was to be honored during halftime at a football game. They were on Route 209 near the village of Gilbert when Mary Edith asked him how far away the school was.

Then, abruptly, a head-on crash ensued that claimed the life of Rhoades and critically injured his wife.

Yesterday, in Monroe County Court, the trial got under way for the man accused by police of causing the accident, Thomas Patrick Senavitis, 46, of 7735 Pohopoco Drive, Kunkletown.

Mary Edith Rhoades was one of seven witnesses who testified on behalf of the prosecution.

The jury trial continues today. President Judge Ronald Vican said he anticipates the trial to last two or three days.

Mary told the court about what was happening when the accident occurred including her last conversation with her husband, a seven-term senator who was seeking re-election at the time of the accident.

Other witnesses said that Senavitis reeked of alcohol, that despite his own serious injuries he declined any pain medication, and, most seriously, that his pick-up truck crossed the centerline of the highway and struck the Cadillac driven by Sen. Rhoades head-on.

So severe was the impact that a reconstruction expert with the state police testified, "It is amazing to me that Mrs. Rhoades is alive."

The accident occurred on Oct. 17, 2008. According to testimony and police reports, a van pulled to the shoulder of the road on Route 209. As the Rhoades vehicle passed that van, their car collided head-on with the pick-up truck driven by Senavitis.

Both the senator and his wife were airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township. Sen. Rhoades was pronounced dead the following morning.

Senavitis was flown by helicopter to St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem. Police reports state his blood alcohol level was 0.355 percent, more than four times the legal driving limit of .08 percent.

Those who testified yesterday in the order of their appearance, and the gist of their testimony, is as follows:

Eric Golab, Jonas,

another motorist

Eric Golab of Jonas testified he was driving about two vehicles behind the senator and his wife when the accident happened. He told the jury, "What I saw was a big cloud of smoke."

He added, "Sen. Rhoades swerved. Then I saw the truck come over."

He said the Senavitis vehicle "was about over in my lane of traffic."

Golab said someone ran to the Rhoades vehicle so he went to the Senavitis pickup to see if there was anything he could do to help. He said of Senavitis, "The guy was underneath the dash, underneath the steering wheel."

"He was hurt very badly," Golab added.

The witness also testified of Senavitis, "He smelled like a brewery."

Charles Frantz, EMT

Frantz said he was the first medical responder on the scene.

He said he went to the pickup truck to assist Senavitis, who was under the steering wheel. He said Senavitis told him his wife was with him and "threw me under the truck and ran." Frantz said he looked around but didn't see anyone else. It was determined that Senavitis was alone when the accident happened.

The witness said he smelled an odor of what appeared to be alcohol.

Frantz, upon cross-examination, said Senavitis was capable of communicating with him.

Kimberly Fischer, EMT

Fisher said when she arrived on the scene of the accident, she saw a pickup truck and car together. The pickup truck was against the passenger side of the car.

She went into the Cadillac and told the senator and Mrs. Rhoades who she was. She said she tried to prevent them from going into shock.

Assistant District Attorney Colleen Mancuso asked her if Mrs. Rhoads said anything to her in the car. Fischer responded, "She was worried about her husband and she said she didn't understand why the other driver crossed the line."

Under cross examination, Fischer said both the senator and Mrs. Rhoades seemed alert.

Rachel Matchette,

paramedic with PennStar

Matchette said she worked in the helicopter which transported Senavitis and that he "was carrying on and becoming uncooperative with us."

She said Senavitis kept asking, "Where's my wife? Where's my wife?" As a result, a search was conducted of the accident area in case she had been thrown from the vehicle.

Because of Senavitis, the helicopter "smelled like a brewery," testified Matchette, adding that the flight crew let the doors of the helicopter open to have the odor escape.

"We believe he was intoxicated," she said. "He had an extremely strong odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath."

The paramedic said there was no pain medicine given to Senavitis "because he never voiced that he was in pain."

Mary Edith Rhoades,

wife of the senator

Mrs. Rhoades said she and her husband were conversing about how far away the school was located. She said her husband "left a scream out." She added that she saw a light come at her, referring to the headlights of the Senavitis vehicle.

"There was a crash that it seemed like it was out of this world," said Mrs. Rhoades

She said she doesn't remember anything after that until looking up and seeing "two huge firemen."

She said her knee hurt and when she put her hand on it, "it wasn't where it was supposed to be."

She said someone asked her husband, "Who is the president of the United States?"

"My husband couldn't answer," she said, adding that he knew who it is because he was involved in politics. "That scared me terribly. I knew something was wrong."

"I don't remember much of the flight," she added.

The next thing she recalled was her children crying.

"They came to me and said their dad was dead," she told the jurors. "That was Saturday morning about 11 o'clock."

She told the court that the injuries she sustained in the crash included four broken ribs, with one rib puncturing a lung; a cracked pelvis; her knee was crushed; and she had broken fingers.

Yamila Yafar,

driver of the van

Yasar said she was driving north on Route 209 on the night of Oct. 17 and decided to pull off the road because her 3-year-old daughter was crying and needed her pacifier.

She said, "There's plenty of room on the shoulder," adding she was completely off the road.

Just as she was putting her gearshift lever into the "park" position, the head-on crash occurred just to the front-left of her van.

"When I looked up it was like a slow motion thing like watching a movie," she said.

The Rhoades Cadillac spun around and hit the van at the door where the toddler was seated, causing the car seat to go sideways. Neither Yafar nor the daughter were hurt.

She said she couldn't tell in which lane the accident had happened.

Cpl. Doug Shook,

Pa. State Police

Cpl. Shook was the only witness in the afternoon, offering three hours of testimony.

Although he wasn't at the scene of the accident on the night the crash occurred, he said he reconstructed it by visiting the site the following day, looking at the damages to the vehicle, and analyzing a computer inside the air bag control module.

He said he determined that Senavitis crossed into the Rhoades' lane of traffic.

When the accident happened, Senavitis was traveling at 53 mph while the Rhoades' vehicle was moving at 21 mph.

He did a PowerPoint presentation to reconstruct the accident, carefully explaining not only what occurred but how he came to his conclusions.

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