DOVER — When Tamara Benson walks her late parents’ dog in the neighborhood around their home, she recalls the warm relationships her mother seemed to form with everyone she met. The pug/chow mix named Abby still stops by homes where she and her late mistress visited the occupants. More than six months after her last walk together with Shirley Espenschied, she remembers where their friends live.
“Every ride we take means talking to neighbors who knew and loved my mother so much,” Benson said when sentencing the teenage driver who caused the crash that killed John and Shirley Espenschied. “She ‘adopted’ everyone she met, and they all knew my parents as Grandma Shirley and Grandpa Johnny.”
It was the same at Denny’s, where Shirley encouraged students to take her daughter’s writing class at Kent State University at Tuscarawas.
Like his wife, John Espenschied has long been a member of the Ohio Archaeological Society and its Sugarcreek Valley chapter. He was a keen amateur archaeologist who worked on many local excavations, including those at Fort Laurens in Bolivar and Nobles Pond near Canton.
He was Santa Claus
“However, Johnny is best known locally for two things: playing Santa Claus for years and his poetry,” Benson wrote in the obituary of the only father she has ever known.
“Johnny appeared in local parades, at private parties, at libraries and at many family gatherings as Santa Claus,” she wrote. “Even after his health declined and he was no longer able to don the costume, he kept the spirit alive by pulling out photos from past visits and decorating their home with his large Santa collection.”
Shirley was often the subject of his poems about love and friendship, and for good reason Benson wrote in the obituary of the couple, who died weeks apart after being fatally injured in the December 16 crash.
“She never met someone who wasn’t instantly her friend. Her smile lit up any room and her ever-upbeat personality couldn’t be shaken. She made sure the postman had a snack and some coffee. water every day, the people who waited for her in a restaurant were her adopted grandchildren, and her neighbors were like family. She was the voice of support and joy for all who needed it,” said the tribute.
Two lives lost after a failed stop
It all ended when a 17-year-old New Philadelphia driver failed to obey a stop sign at Race and E. 10th streets, a fifth of a mile from the Espenschieds’ home on N. Cross. Street. The collision between their 2008 Chevrolet Equinox and the 2006 Chevolet Silverado pickup truck inflicted the worst injuries on John, 77, who was sitting in the front passenger seat. He died the night after the accident.
The teenager and his passenger, a 16-year-old girl from Dover, were not injured.
Shirley, 71, who suffered broken ribs on both sides, a punctured lung, a broken leg and broken vertebrae, died two weeks after the crash. Prior to her death, she was on and off a ventilator, alternating between very well and very poorly, Benson said during sentencing of the teenage driver in Tuscarawas County Juvenile Court.
“We couldn’t arrange a funeral for (John) because we were waiting for her to come home and make decisions on how to bury her husband, although we weren’t even sure at first if she even knew he was gone,” Benson said when sentencing the teenage driver. “Then she died and everything got exponentially worse.”
A lost son, a found son
Shirley Espenschied hasn’t had an easy life. Benson said her mother had been raised in foster care since she was 3 years old. She raised her son Timothy Weirich, Jr. and Benson as a single mother after their father died when Benson was 4 years old. Timothy Weirich, Jr. died in 1995. In 2019, Shirley first met the son she was forced to give up for adoption at age 17.
“For 52 years, I didn’t know my birth mother,” David Weisel of Virginia Beach told the court during sentencing in juvenile court. “I found my sister, Tamara, through Ancestry DNA. Then, in less than a week, I was able to see and talk to my mother for the first time via video. A hole in my soul was fulfilled. All my life I felt I was missing something vital. I found it three years ago. I had a mother who never stopped loving me. We had three far too short in-person visits. We were just getting to know each other, sharing a lifetime of lived memories. while we were apart and starting to make new memories together. Because of your action that night, my last memory of mom being unconscious on a ventilator in the hospital.
He told the teenage driver: “I’m angry, sad and a bit lost. You took our mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and a beloved friend to everyone who met her You ripped a piece out of all our hearts that night.
“I agree with my sister that this night should not define your life but be a defining moment in your life,” Weisel told the juvenile court.
“He’s just a child”
Benson said she didn’t want to see the offending driver in jail with inmates who intentionally committed violent crimes.
“I never wanted to see him go to jail,” she said. “He’s just a child.”
Tuscarawas County Juvenile Judge Adam Wilgus sentenced the offending driver to 90 days in juvenile jail on July 6 when the now 18-year-old defendant pleaded no contest to two counts of manslaughter at the driving a vehicle, a second degree misdemeanor. The judge declared him a delinquent on two counts of manslaughter. The incarceration time was suspended on the condition that the accused continue to participate in the council and follow the advice of the councillor. His license was suspended for a year. He was sentenced to perform 200 hours of community service and take a driving course.
The young adult addressed the family of the victims in court.
“I can’t imagine what I would do if I lost someone so close to my family, so I deeply appreciate you listening to what I have to say,” he said. “I feel like my words can’t express how sorry I am for such an event that I will never forget in my life. So instead of just apologizing, I would like you to understand that I never wanted this to happen. If there was anything I could do to change it now, I would do it immediately.
“What I’ve done stays with me all the time and drives me to improve all aspects of my life. God really helped me in this situation and I pray that he helps your family in any way he can. “
Before pronouncing the sentence, the judge underlined the burden that the defendant will continue to carry.
“It’s one of those types of situations where it doesn’t matter what I order,” Wilgus said. “You have to live with the fact that you’ve taken the lives of two people for the rest of your life is going to be harder and more of a punishment, in my opinion, than anything I’m ordering today.
“Unfortunately, it’s a learning lesson. It’s really hard for you because there’s no turning back. There’s a lot in life, especially when you’re driving a vehicle at engine and that you cannot afford to make a mistake.When driving, you must have both hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road and you must obey the speed limit, stop signs, red lights And if not, this is what could happen The only thing that could have happened that would have been more tragic is that you and your passenger could have lost their lives as well.
“I sincerely hope you enjoy this experience and turn it into something positive for your life,” Wilgus said. “You can’t afford to mess it up.”
“Cherish every moment you spend with your mother and your family,” said Weisel, son of Shirley Espenschied. “Live a life that would make your mom and our mom proud.”
Contact Nancy at 330-364-8402 or [email protected]
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