Four child molestation victims so far sue ex-York swim coach, 3 businesses whose pools he used
In April 1999, York-area swimming instructor Ronald D. Wolfe — who also worked for York County Children and Youth Services and volunteered in Scouting — pleaded guilty to molesting 20 children between the ages of 4 and 11, all of whom took swimming lessons from him.
Sixteen of the 20 children were between the ages of 5 and 7. Four of the victims were girls, 16 were boys.
Wolfe indecently touched them in his home pool and at three pools he rented time at between 1992 and 1997, often with the children's parents just feet away but entirely unaware, according to court documents.
Four of the victims have pending lawsuits in Dauphin County Court against both Wolfe and the businesses that rented him pool time, and the attorney representing the four said the current statute of limitations is reaching an end for a number of Wolfe's other victims. Defendants in the lawsuits are currently trying to have the cases moved to York County, records show.
One lawsuit, representing two victims, names as defendants the Athletic Club of York, located on Loucks Road in Manchester Township; the former Olde York Valley Inn that was on East Market Street in Springettsbury Township; and the inn's former owners, William and Sally Davis.
"Olde York Valley Inn and the Davises deny the allegations against them and expect to prevail in the lawsuit," said Philadelphia-based attorney Lawrence Woehrle, who represents the couple and their former business.
An attorney representing the Athletic Club of York did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The other lawsuit, filed on behalf of two other victims, names George M. Leader Family Corp., doing business as Country Meadows of Leader Heights, as a defendant. An attorney representing Country Meadows also didn't return a message seeking comment.
"Now is the time. People are coming forward, litigation is occurring," said attorney Nate Foote, of Harrisburg law firm Andreozzi & Foote, which represents the four victims who have already sued.
Reform on horizon: Pennsylvania law currently says child sex-abuse victims lose the right to file civil lawsuits once they reach the age of 30, according to Foote.
"But we may get statute of limitations reform in the near future," he said, which could allow survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 years old, as long as they hadn't turned 30 as of Nov. 26, 2019.
Pennsylvania was poised to enact that revision, but a failure to properly advertise the law inadvertently scuttled it.
"We’re still hoping it will pass, or something like it will pass (in the next couple years)," Foote said, adding he's also in touch with Wolfe victims who are either time-barred from filing suit, could sue but haven't done so yet, or simply don't want to.
"A few didn't want to go through the (lawsuit) process," he said. "It can be onerous on a sexual-assault survivor to do that."
Still struggling: But the four York County plaintiffs want their day in court, Foote said, adding he might eventually file more lawsuits on behalf of other victims.
"The clients we have are struggling to varying degrees with their abuse, ranging from severe reactions, severe dysfunction, serious psychiatric diagnoses directly attributed to abuse, to less severe reactions," Foote said. "Nobody has 'just gotten over it' and I think everybody Mr. Wolfe abused will deal with it forever."
The Maryland victims have gone on to lead difficult lives, he said, adding "it's certainly true" of some of Wolfe's York County victims as well.
Now 63, Wolfe has never fully taken responsibility for his actions, according to Foote and some of the victims.
At his 1999 sentencing hearing, Wolfe told Judge Michael J. Brillhart "that this all relates to the OCD factor," according to the sentencing transcript.
'Happened accidentally'? Wolfe's private psychologist diagnosed him with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but Wolfe refused to participate when a state psychologist tried to evaluate him, court records state.
"I truly taught each of those children to swim, and that was my prime objective," Wolfe said to the judge at sentencing. "What happened accidentally or in the process of teaching swimming, I am very sorry that it came to this kind of finality, if you will, for lack of better terms."
Brillhart noted in open court that Wolfe had backed away from what he'd admitted to at his previous guilty-plea hearing — that he indecently touched the children for the purpose of sexual gratification.
The now-retired judge also noted that Wolfe had been found guilty in Maryland in 1981 of molesting four boys, ages 8 to 12, but was given a suspended sentence. Foote said Wolfe worked in a group home in Maryland and moved back to York after his criminal case there was resolved.
Despite Wolfe's apparent backpedaling, Brillhart allowed the guilty pleas to stand and sentenced Wolfe to concurrent terms for 20 counts each of indecent assault corruption of minors, for a total sentence of seven to 14 years in prison, plus 15 years' probation.
Sexually violent predator: Twenty-two years later, Wolfe remains free after serving his time. He must register with state police as a sexually violent predator for the rest of his life as part of the state's Megan's Law requirements.
He did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
At Wolfe's sentencing hearing, the parents and grandparents of his victims spoke about how the children struggled in the aftermath of being molested after enrolling in his Dolphin Swim Club.
Some had nightmares; others developed trust issues. More than one shrank from the hugs and touches of family members, documents state.
"Do you know what it's like for your child not to want affection from a parent?" one mother asked Brillhart.
Another boy had "tremendous, continuous nightmares that he awakens and is scared to death," a family member told the judge.
Robbed of innocence: Another woman said her grandchild couldn't sleep at night until his parents had an alarm system installed, and that he would no longer sleep over at her home because she didn't have an alarm system.
Other parents admitted they worried about whether their children would grow up to become child sexual abusers themselves.
"He has robbed my child of his innocence … and we can't heal that in him," one mother said.
"I think our clients would love to see him fully admit what he did … and not continue to make excuses," Foote said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.