DEFIANCE - As Defiance County s only Common Pleas Court judge, Joseph Schmenk said he understands his children face more public scrutiny than others because of his high profile in the community.
But he said he hopes residents understand that like others, his children are good people who make mistakes.
The judge s son, David Schmenk, 21, was arrested Friday on charges of serving alcohol to his underage friends. One of those people later ran from police and disappeared into the chilly Auglaize River. Garrit Nixon, 20, has not been found.
Police were trying to stop Mr. Nixon and University of Toledo football player Brock Dodrill, 20, after they received a report that the men were throwing eggs at cars.
Eight people were arrested for underage drinking in the investigation.
“It s heartbreaking anytime your child does something wrong or makes a bad decision, but at the same time, David has done a lot of good things,” the judge said, speaking slowly and with emotion. “Obviously a parent likes to take credit for their child s successes, and the other side of that is that if a child does something wrong, like it or not, it s a reflection on the parent or parents.”
Judge Schmenk, who has four children and two stepchildren, expressed sympathy for the family of Mr. Nixon, who has been missing since early Dec. 27.
He referred to the situation as a tragedy - something he has been forced to deal with in the past.
In July, 2001, his daughter, Katherine, now 19, admitted to being delinquent and causing the death of a friend when she drove at high speed over a bump in the road and lost control of her car. Sara Lehman, 17, of rural Defiance, died in the accident. Ms. Schmenk was fined $500, ordered to perform 48 hours of community service, and her license was revoked until she is 21.
Mr. Nixon s disappearance more than a week ago and the subsequent arrests have unsettled this community of about 17,000 people located about 55 miles southwest of Toledo.
Mr. Nixon jumped into the water and a police officer pulled him to safety. But the man ran back into the river and has not been seen since. As Mr. Nixon s family and friends continue to pray for a miracle, Defiance firefighters have been searching the river.
Residents spoke highly of the young men involved - many of them former standout football stars, one of them the judge s son.
“He did wrong. He was charged. He went in and entered a plea. He s not trying to avoid the consequences of his behavior,” said Judge Schmenk, who has been a Common Pleas Court judge since 1990. As a visiting judge, he has heard cases throughout the region, including murder cases in Lucas and Wood counties.
Judge Schmenk said he is confident that his son s situation will be dealt with appropriately. “He recently turned 21. It s not like he doesn t know better. He obviously made a very, very bad judgment.”
Details of what happened that night are being investigated, Defiance Police Chief Norm Walker said. To date, nine people have been arrested - including the judge s son and a 17-year-old juvenile - and face misdemeanor alcohol charges.
David Schmenk, who lives with his mother, was arraigned Friday in Defiance Municipal Court where he pleaded no contest to charges of furnishing alcohol to underage persons and disorderly conduct.
Municipal Judge John Rohrs removed himself from the case so a visiting judge will be appointed to sentence David Schmenk.
The men were given court fines and 90-day jail sentences that were suspended.
Chief Walker said yesterday that the investigation is ongoing.
“We re in a position where we have to do our job and arrests have to be made,” the chief said. “What we really have to look at is the big picture. We have a presumed drowning and that s a tragedy.”
Mr. Dodrill, a linebacker on the University of Toledo football team, was charged with underage consumption of alcohol and disorderly conduct. He submitted a written plea of not guilty in Defiance Municipal Court yesterday and is scheduled to appear back in court Jan. 20.
Meanwhile, the search for Mr. Nixon, a former Defiance High football player, was suspended yesterday after nearly 10 days. Freezing temperatures coupled with a high water level and a fast current made conditions too dangerous to search the river by boat, Defiance Fire Chief Bill Wilkins said.
Crews intend to continue searching the river banks and put spotters on bridges until the Auglaize freezes, Chief Wilkins said. Authorities in Henry, Wood, and Lucas counties have been notified.
Judge Schmenk said his family, like many others in Defiance, are praying for Mr. Nixon s parents and sisters. He said that while his son and the others are facing the consequences of their actions, Mr. Nixon s family continues to live in a state of not knowing.
“I m acquainted with Garrit s family and the families of virtually all the other families involved,” he said. “I just feel so badly for them.”