York County ex-fugitive pleads guilty to causing fatal crash
A Dover Township man who gave The York Dispatch an interview while on the run in South Carolina has pleaded guilty to causing a motorcycle crash more than five years ago that killed passenger Aaron Groendyk.
Groendyk, 18, of Dover, spent about six weeks in medically induced "twilight" and fought hard to recover, but he died on June 30, 2014, according to his mother, Pam Groendyk.
Thomas Jarrod Stone, 27, appeared in York County Court on Tuesday, Oct. 1, and entered guilty pleas in three cases, including for Aaron Groendyk's death.
He pleaded guilty to causing an accident involving death or personal injury while not properly licensed, which is a third-degree felony.
He also pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats in two unrelated cases in which he threatened his wife's father and brother.
First assistant district attorney Tim Barker told presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner that in exchange for Stone's plea he was offered a total sentence of time-served to 23 months in York County Prison, plus five years of probation.
The agreement called for Stone to have no contact with the Groendyk family, to submit to full mental-health and drug and alcohol evaluations, to comply with all recommended counseling and treatment, and to pay $500 restitution to his father-in-law for damaging the man's property.
Years of legal battles: Barker noted that Stone's fatal-crash case has been in litigation for years, and could drag on for many more years. A negotiated plea agreement would end that legal wrangling, he said.
The Groendyk family showed "a lot more grace and compassion than anyone should expect," Barker said, but doesn't support the time-served sentence, which amounts to about 9½ months.
Defense attorney Chris Ferro said the cases aren't "slam dunks" for the prosecution, and that there's "significant uncertainty" on both sides about who would prevail at trial.
Fellow defense attorney Korey Leslie told the judge the long probationary sentence would allow the judge to lock up Stone, should Stone violate the terms of his probation.
After hearing from Aaron Groendyk's mother and two sisters, Mercedie and Lexus Groendyk, Judge Bortner said he wasn't comfortable immediately imposing Stone's proposed sentence.
"I still have some questions about things," Bortner said, explaining that he would accept Stone's guilty plea but determine for himself whether the negotiated punishment is appropriate.
"I have no idea what my sentence might be," the judge said. "This is something I need to get right."
Needs more time: Bortner explained that if he chooses to sentence Stone more harshly than what the prosecution agreed to, Stone has the legal right to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.
The judge said he's not necessarily disagreeing that the proposed sentence is appropriate or taking issue with the terms. Bortner said he simply needs more time to consider Stone's sentence.
He set sentencing for Oct. 23 and ordered the county's adult probation department to do a pre-sentence investigation with a sentencing recommendation.
Pam Groendyk told The York Dispatch she was surprised and glad that the judge delayed sentencing.
"It gives me some hope ... that we get some (measure) of justice," she said.
The grieving mother brought with her a stuffed Dalmatian toy that Aaron had since he was 2 years old. She kept it within reach as she read her victim-impact statement aloud in court on Tuesday.
"So ... am I angry? Yes I am. My son is gone and that is the most difficult thing that I have to live with every day," Pam Groendyk said. "I feel that my son's life is worth more than the sentence that is being presented."
'No compassion': She chastised Stone and called him a coward.
"If you were any kind of man you would have stepped up and took responsibility for your actions," she said. "You have no compassion for my family or me."
Pam Groendyk spoke about the hours she spent at her son's hospital bedside after the May 23, 2014, motorcycle crash.
She also spoke about happier family times, including vacations, holidays and the Sunday family dinners she shared with her three children.
"To this day I still have Sunday dinner with my daughters," she said. "We talk about Aaron and laugh and cry over the memories we share at the dinner table."
Lexus Groendyk noted in her victim-impact statement that Stone "has no remorse or sympathy" and that her dead brother and family deserve justice.
Mercedie Groendyk wrote in her victim-impact statement that she misses her brother every day, and that his death has destroyed her family.
"It sucks not knowing what kind of man he would have grown into ... and what kind of life he would have made for himself," Mercedie Groendyk wrote.
"It's been hell," Pam Groendyk told the judge.
Captured in hospital: In a March 19 interview with The York Dispatch, Stone claimed to be in Oregon and said he was working an off-the-books job and selling crack cocaine.
But he was actually in Sumter County, South Carolina, with his pregnant wife, where officials arrested him on March 24 on his outstanding York County criminal warrants.
"At the end of the day, if they get me, they get me," Stone said in March. "This is not the endgame."
Stone has been an adult for less than a decade but has already been in and out of York County Prison about a dozen times and has served state prison time, according to prison records.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.