The lawyer representing the man who police say threw his daughter from a Florida bridge had tried to get police and child services to intervene because she thought the man was delusional and a danger to the child.
John Nicholas Jonchuck, 25, was ordered held on charges that included first-degree murder Thursday, hours after he was arrested on suspicion of throwing his 5-year-old daughter Phoebe off the Dick Misener Bridge and into the cold waters of Tampa Bay. The child’s lifeless body was recovered some 90 minutes later by rescue workers, including some from Eckerd College, which is about a mile from the bridge, near St. Petersburg.
At his hearing, Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews asked Jonchuck if he wanted an attorney.
“I want to leave it in the hands of God,” Jonchuck said.
“I'm pretty sure God's not going to be representing you in this case,” the judge responded. “You're going to be standing trial.”
Jonchuck had met with his lawyer, Genevieve Torres, on Wednesday. Jonchuck had sought legal help in establishing rules of custody and visitation for Phoebe, Torres said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Torres said she had called 911 on Wednesday morning and asked Hillsborough County deputies to meet with Jonchuck after he had called her God and had asked her to translate the Bible in Swedish.
“I thought he was delusional, and he had a 5-year-old child with him,” Torres said. Torres spoke after officials released details of her call. She said she could only discuss limited issues because of confidentiality restrictions.
Deputies met with Jonchuck and his daughter as they were leaving a church day care center later on Wednesday and both appeared to be in good health. Jonchuck said he didn't want to harm himself or anyone else, according to county documents.
Phoebe "was smiling and appeared healthy, properly clothed and happy,” according to the investigative documents made public.
Torres said there was a series of calls throughout the day after her Wednesday morning meeting with Jonchuck. She said she also contacted the abuse hotline as a precaution.
“I was concerned for the child,” Torres said, “and was hoping that someone would go out to him.”
Jonchuck and Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr, were together for six years, and police responded several times to domestic calls. Both had arrest records, officials said.
“I always saw him as a good dad,” Kerr told the Associated Press. Phoebe "would always say, 'I love you, daddy.’ She loved her dad.”
She said she last saw her daughter and Jonchuck on Christmas Eve. They had a nice evening together and then Jonchuck called child protective services on Kerr and made false abuse allegations, she said.
“He does the Jekyll and Hyde. It's just something that goes on in his head. He just wasn't wired right,” Kerr said.
Shortly after midnight Thursday, Jonchuck was driving his Chrysler PT Cruiser at about 100 mph toward the Skyway Bridge when he passed a St. Petersburg police officer who was heading home, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said at a televised news conference. The officer turned on his lights to stop the car.
The Cruiser stopped near the top of the Dick Misener Bridge on the approach to the Skyway and the officer pulled up behind the car.
Jonchuck got out and started approaching the officer, who drew his gun, Holloway said. The officer thought he heard the child scream but he wasn't sure, Holloway said.
“The suspect started talking, but the officer didn't understand what he was saying,” the chief said.
Then, Jonchuck walked over to the passenger's side door, pulled out Phoebe and cradled her, bringing her to the rail. He then threw her into the bay, Holloway said.
“I don't even know what was going through this guy's mind,” Holloway told reporters.
It was not known if the child was alive when tossed from the bridge, police said. Investigators are waiting for an autopsy to determine the cause and time of death.
After the confrontation on the bridge, Jonchuck got back in the car and headed south, crossing the bridge on Interstate 275.
“The suspect drove off,” Holloway said. “He just drove off.”
Two other officers who were near the bridge followed Jonchuck.
Holloway said Jonchuck turned his blinker on and stopped. He said Jonchuck then started driving toward deputies, going the wrong way on the interstate.
Deputies put out traffic spikes and stopped the vehicle.
Jonchuck refused to talk to police after his arrest, Holloway said.
In addition to the murder charges, Jonchuck also faces charges of assault and fleeing and eluding police.