CASTALIA, Ohio — Staked into the grass at the junction of State Rts. 101 and 412 on the way into Castalia is a 4-foot by 4-foot, white, wooden yard sign. “Justice for Jake and Ella Limberios,” it says in black-and-red stenciled letters.
Four hundred of these signs dot storefronts, yards of homes, and highway medians in Castalia and other towns in Sandusky and Erie counties. There are signs as far away as Bucyrus, Mansfield, and Columbus. Neighbors, friends, and strangers are showing solidarity for Jacob Limberios of Castalia, who died of a gunshot wound to the head on March 2, 2012.
That night, the 19-year-old was at a residence near Clyde handling a 357-caliber revolver. Somehow, it discharged and he was killed. He left behind a daughter named Ella, now 4.
Sandusky County Coroner John Wukie ruled the death an accidental suicide. Jacob’s parents, Michael and Shannon Limberios, were upset that an autopsy was not conducted immediately after the death to determine the cause and have always disputed the suicide ruling.
“I don’t think every death warrants an autopsy,” said Sean O’Connell, the Sandusky County sheriff’s detective assigned to the case last year. “I think certain criteria come into play for when an autopsy does or doesn’t need to be done. I don’t think the autopsy would have told us anything different.”
In September, 2012, the Limberioses hired Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht to perform the first autopsy on Jacob. Because of the lack of gunpowder residue and stippling on Jacob’s body, he determined that the shot had to have been fired from farther away than 24 inches. He ruled it a homicide.
But in May, 2013, Lucas County Deputy Coroner Cynthia Beisser performed a second autopsy and reported that her findings were “not inconsistent” with the original ruling of suicide.
The sign campaign is meant to draw attention to the family’s search for a definitive cause of death and their dissatisfaction with the way Sandusky County officials handled the investigation.
“I don’t want this to happen to another family,” said Lonnie Siesel, one of the couple’s neighbors who helped spearhead the sign campaign.
This last winter, Christine Wiedle, who lives next door to the Limberios family, put the first sign out in her front yard, with the words “Shame on you, Sandusky County. Mike DeWine, please step in” scrawled on paper.
The attorney general’s office did take over the case in June, with attorneys Marianne Hemmeter, Matt Donahue, and William Schenck assigned to the investigation.
Ms. Wiedle and Ms. Siesel ask for a minimum donation of $5 for the signs to cover the cost of making them, offset some of the family’s legal fees, and pay for a gravestone for Jacob.
Brady Gasser, Jacob’s best friend, is working with State Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) to create Jake’s Law, which would require coroners or medical examiners to conduct an autopsy on every violent or suspicious death.
“We were always surprised to hear that Dr. Wukie didn’t actually break any laws,” Mr. Gasser, 20, said.
This summer, Mr. Redfern has been meeting with David Corey, executive director of the Ohio State Coroners Association, to discuss ways to change state law without eliminating coroners’ responsibilities or accruing unintended costs for counties.
“My objective is to find an opportunity to change the coroners law in this state so that an autopsy occurs when a suicide is the cause of death to ensure that suicide is the actual cause of death,” said Mr. Redfern, who knew of the case from the signs.
“Every week when I drive to Columbus, I drive through the town of Castalia,” he said. “I see the signs up. ... You can’t help but know this case.”
The sign campaign and the Justice for Jake & Ella Facebook page also brought the Limberioses yet another opinion on Jacob’s death last week.
Kevin Whaley, a medical examiner for the state of Virginia, contacted the family through the Facebook page and offered to give his unbiased opinion of the cause of death. After reviewing the reports from the autopsies, he too ruled it a homicide.
“There was no gunshot residue and nothing on Jacob’s scalp that fits with it being a close wound,” Dr. Whaley said. “There’s nothing to support that he did it himself. ... But I’m having to rely on their descriptions because I haven’t seen the body.”
Mr. O’Connell disputes Dr. Whaley’s homicide ruling.
He said that Dr. Whaley is “making a ruling only based on what the family has provided him, and the family hasn’t been provided with everything we have. I don’t think it’s fair for him to make a determination without having everything.”
Since its investigation of the case is ongoing, the attorney general’s office declined to comment on Dr. Whaley’s findings.
Mr. Limberios said Dr. Whaley’s report just confirms his belief. Until the final determination is made, though, he and his wife take comfort in the signs.
“Me and my wife drive out and we see these signs,” Mr. Limberios said. “It tugs at your heart.”
Contact Arielle Stambler at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.