Castalia parents contest suicide ruling in son’s death

4/20/2013
BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jacob Limberios, 19, died of a gunshot wound to the head on March 2, 2012.
Jacob Limberios, 19, died of a gunshot wound to the head on March 2, 2012.

FREMONT — The details seem ripped from a TV crime-show plot line: a teenager shot, the death ruled suicide; cries of a shoddy investigation; a body exhumed, and a shocking second opinion — homicide.

More than a year after Jacob Limberios, 19, of Castalia died from a gunshot wound to the head, his family and authorities still are searching for answers in a quest that has pitted the two sides against each other.

His parents, Michael and Shannon Limberios, believe Sandusky County officials haven’t done their jobs properly in the aftermath of the March 2, 2012, death. Authorities said they continue to investigate and want to exhume the body for another autopsy.

The night the teenager died, he was with a small group at a residence near Clyde. According to witnesses, Jacob Limberios was handling a 357-caliber revolver when it discharged and he was killed. His family contends the investigation was lacking, evidence was destroyed, and witness statements are inconsistent.

Dissatisfied with Sandusky County Coroner Dr. John Wukie’s suicide ruling, which noted the young man “may not have realized” the gun was loaded, the family has gone to great lengths to find answers for their son’s legacy and that of his daughter, Ella, now 4.

“She’s not going to live the rest of her life thinking that’s what happened, when that’s not really what happened. That little girl is my life,” said Mr. Limberios of his granddaughter.

Family attorney Daniel McGookey calls the coroner’s ruling an oxymoron, a contradictory position reached without autopsy or examination. The parents filed a complaint against Dr. Wukie in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court to change the death ruling.

They arranged for their son’s body to be exhumed and a private autopsy — the first and only one done so far in the case — was performed in September by nationally known forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh. He found no gun powder residue or stippling, indicating the shot was fired from farther away than 24 inches. In short, “this case should be considered as homicide,” the doctor wrote.

The family also hired private investigators, had witnesses’ polygraph test results examined — and disputed — by experts, and now are trying to remove the special prosecutor handling the criminal investigation and stop a second exhumation.

“We want to know what happened to our son that night,” said Mr. Limberios of Castalia.

More evidence

Dean Henry, a Tiffin attorney acting as special prosecutor in the criminal investigation and who also represents Dr. Wukie in the family’s legal challenge of the manner of death, said his goal also is to find answers.

“I would very much like to give the Limberioses some peace. Nothing would make me happier ... than to be able to do that, but that’s not going to happen until all of the evidence is collected,” said Mr. Henry.

He wants the Lucas County Coroner’s Office, which does such work for Sandusky County, to perform an autopsy. The family opposes another disinterment, and a court hearing is scheduled Tuesday to consider a preliminary injunction.

Soon after the death, the family begged officials to do an autopsy, but those efforts were resisted, Mr. McGookey, the family’s attorney, said. Mr. Limberios said authorities should first study a tissue sample provided by Dr. Wecht, adding there’s “no need for another exhumation.”

Mr. Henry said Sandusky County’s coroner, who didn’t return requests for comment, made the determination regarding the manner of death last year based on “the information that we had at the time.”

“Dr. Wukie was trying to accurately reflect what his understanding of what the facts were at the time of the death based on what law enforcement had communicated to him,” Mr. Henry said.

The coroner since has asked the sheriff’s department to investigate further.

Mr. Henry said he’s been advised by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office that examining the body is the best course. He said he takes seriously Dr. Wecht’s homicide opinion. “When you get a letter from a forensic pathologist that he believes that an individual died from a homicide, you can’t ignore that,” Mr. Henry said. “That’s not to say we are in a position to agree or disagree ...; you would be a fool not to take a second look.”

An autopsy is one aspect of an investigation that also includes work by Sean O’Connell, a Sandusky County sheriff’s detective who declined to comment. The sheriff’s office requested the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to conduct firearms and DNA testing, said Ohio Attorney General spokesman Dan Tierney.

A report by the Sandusky County Prosecuting Attorney’s office stated an investigator found nothing to indicate Jacob Limberios “intended to harm himself” or that “any criminal culpability exists among the three witnesses of the incident,” according to court documents.

Prosecutor Thomas Stierwalt referred questions to Mr. Henry.

Witnesses Evan Neidler, listed in legal filings as living in Sandusky, and William Lewis, listed as living in Marblehead, Ohio, could not be reached for comment. Witness Brittany Bowers, listed in legal filings as living in Marblehead, declined to comment. Sheriff Kyle Overmyer also declined to comment.

Mr. Henry said the only information contrary to witness statements is Dr. Wecht’s opinion. He said “additional testing” needs to be done and that he learned days ago of someone who may have information about the investigation; he would not elaborate.

“This case is not even close to being done as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Appeal to DeWine

Limberios family supporters want Attorney General Mike DeWine to take over the investigation. They started an online petition at the Web site change.org and maintain a Facebook page called Justice for Jake. The attorney general can become involved in an investigation at the request of local authorities.

Mr. McGookey recently filed a renewed motion to disqualify Mr. Henry as special prosecutor.

He said Mr. Henry has a conflict of interest because he also represents Dr. Wukie. Mr. Limberios called holding the two positions at the same time a “horrible mess.”

Mr. Henry countered he’s already involved the attorney general through the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and has been in contact with the state office over the course of the investigation. He said his role representing the coroner in the dispute over the manner-of-death ruling will not affect the course of his criminal investigation.

“Dr. Wukie has already instructed me that he wants me to advise him based on where the evidence leads ..., and that if it is necessary to change the ruling based on the evidence, then he will do this,” Mr. Henry said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.