A mentally disturbed father is in custody after throwing his daughter, 5, from the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Florida on Thursday. As witnesses scrambled to retrieve the little girl’s body, her untroubled father drove away from the St. Petersburg scene. Police were able to catch up to the father, John Nicholas Jonchuck, 30, approximately 30 minutes later and proceeded to arrest him for the murder of his daughter, Phoebe Jonchuck.
The Associated Press is reporting that Jonchuck’s attorney phoned police earlier on Wednesday to report that her client had been acting strangely. Genevieve Torres told Florida law enforcement officials that her client had called her “God” and asked her to translate a Swedish Bible. When she told him that she did not read Swedish, Torres told the dispatcher that Jonchuck “started being really…I mean, he’s nuts.” Torres then told dispatch that she was concerned because Jonchuck was acting crazy and he had his little girl with him.
Officers were at the daughter’s daycare in St. John’s Catholic Church when Jonchuck arrived to pick her up. They found him to be well-groomed and dressed in a black shirt and pajama bottoms. The police report indicates that Jonchuck admitted to being on 37 medications to treat a health condition which authorities redacted from the document, but said that he no longer took any prescription drugs. The officers determined that Jonchuck did not pose a threat to himself or anybody else and allowed him to leave.
The documents say that the 5-year-old was “smiling” and that she appeared to be “healthy, properly clothed and happy.” Detective Larry McKinnon, the spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office in Florida , said that without evidence or information from others that Jonchuck posed a threat to his daughter or to himself, deputies were unable to hold him or order a mental health assessment.
It was just twelve short hours later that her body was recovered from Tampa Bay in Florida. According to police, an officer with the St. Petersburg, Florida, police department was on his way home on southbound Interstate 275 when a vehicle traveling 100 miles per hour sped past him shortly after midnight. The officer tailed the white PT Cruiser until he saw it stop at the top of an approach to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay. Police report that it appeared as though he waited for the officer’s arrival. At that point, Jonchuck took Phoebe from her pink car seat and threw her over the railing of the bridge into the water 62 feet below. Jonchurch then calmly drove off.
During a press conference held on Thursday morning, Chief Anthony Holloway of the St. Petersburg, Florida, Police Department said that it is still unknown whether Phoebe had been alive when her father tossed her over bridge. He said the officer believes he heard her scream, but he is not certain. The medical examiner’s report, when finished, should contain that information.
Bay News 9 spoke with Yolanda Fernandez, spokesperson for the St. Petersburg, Florida, Police. She said that the officer heard the girl’s body hit the water and immediately tried to rescue her. By the time he had scrambled down to a platform under the bridge, “the current had already taken her away.” Eckerd College rescuers discovered the girl’s body almost two hours later. She had traveled approximately one mile. Phoebe was transported to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead at around 2:45 a.m.
Fisherman Bobby Hay assisted the rescue teams in their search and told WESH-TV that he is “heartbroken.” He said that rescuers were “looking as fast as we could, trying to save somebody, but there’s nothing you could do.”
Jonchuck was arrested in Manatee County, Florida, and did not give police any information as to why he threw Phoebe from the bridge. The officer heard him say something when he exited his car, but could not make out what was said.
Jonchuck’s arrest record contains previous arrests for a 2008 domestic violence incident and both a DUI and a battery arrest in 2013. Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr, is 29 and is afflicted with multiple sclerosis, which made it difficult for her to take care of “her little angel.” For this reason, despite his arrests, Jonchuck had custody of their daughter.
Jonchuck has been charged with premeditated murder and two other counts, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated fleeing. During a Thursday afternoon court appearance, Jonchuck said that he “want[ed] to leave it in the hands of God,” when the judge asked if he wanted the court to appoint an attorney for him. After the judge told Jonchuck that he was fairly certain that God would not be acting as his attorney, he rescheduled the hearing to Monday to see if Jonchuck would change his mind.
The owner of Phoebe’s daycare, Linda Mattos, described the girl as a loving daughter who loved princesses and coloring. Mattos said that upon hearing the news of Phoebe’s death, she was “bothered…the most” because of how much the girl hated water, to the point that “She wouldn’t even take a bath.”
By Jennifer Pfalz