Note: The original article about the unidentified victim can be found here: Meyer Cemetery John Doe.
Since I first remember hearing about the four men killed in an accident in the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 3, 2000, I have been left wondering the identity of one of the men. In the aftermath of the deadly accident, local newspapers reported very little about the tragic accident. Only a handful of articles were published and those follow-up articles failed to see the front page of the paper.
I was sent an email a couple weeks ago asking if I had uncovered anything new about the Meyer Cemetery John Doe, so I went back into the online newspaper archives and did a couple searches. In the process of these searches, I discovered a handful of regional newspapers, not been available before, were now a part of the archives.
In the process of these searches I discovered a name I was not familiar with, and after reading it and making a couple inquiries, I headed back to Meyer Cemetery, to tell the man I had discovered his name. Walking among the markers, I paused at the rear of the cemetery at a simple stone remembering him as “John Doe / 2000.”
Before I reveal the name, let’s take a moment to remember the deadly wreck that claimed the lives of four men.
The morning of Wednesday, August 3, 2000 was foggy. Employees of Amusements of America were traveling from the Orange County Fair in Middletown, New York to the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. The van carrying David Hurst (25), Leonard Parken (18), Jacqueline Sanz (51), and the unidentified man was struck behind by a tractor-trailer. The collision caused the two vehicles to explode.
The August 4, 2000 edition of the Centre Daily Times is the first time three of the four men who were killed in the accident are identified. Beneath the identified, is the following statement: “The fourth victim’s name is being withheld pending notification of family members.” With this being the first time I had read this particular article, the statement caught my attention: it implied the coroner’s office had either 1) identified the man or 2) had a strong idea of the possibility of his identity.
Oddly, while the coroner’s office was making their statement, Dominic Vivona, the owner of Amusements of America was making a very different statement to the press. In the same article, he claims he did not know any of the people involved in the accident. “They are people who joined in the last week and were supposed to start here full time this week, but never got here,” Vivona is quoted. Even if they were not working full time, wouldn’t the company be concerned with who was traveling in their vehicles as the carnival made its way from one place to another? Wouldn’t the company have a record of the men, if they had been hired?
The state police remained silent in regards to the conflicting statements by Vivona and the Coroner’s Office. However, eight days later the state police called to the public for help in identifying the man. As far as I can determine, their plea for help only made the Centre Daily Times and even then failed to make the front page. The August 12 edition has Meyer Cemetery John Doe as still listed as unidentified. The man, whose name was waiting for family notification, is now a man without a name.
In this same article, the Centre Daily Times, gives some information about the fourth victim. The victim is described as an adult male, not from Central Pennsylvania.
But while the Pennsylvania State Police are asking for help, they also reveal they were waiting for information from the Philadelphia Police Department in regards to a possible identification. But it is never revealed why they had contacted authorities in Philadelphia.
That was where 2000 ended. Past newspaper searches revealed nothing. I sat back from the computer and scratched my head. I was ready to give up. I would reply that I had found some more information, but he remained nameless.
Then I did a search I had never previously done. I wondered if the newspapers had anything about the result of the state police investigation. Searching for the name of the truck driver who was also involved in the accident, I found the missing piece of information. Note: I will not post the truck driver’s name here. He was cleared of any charges of negligence in the fatal accident due to the foggy conditions.
An article buried in the March 10, 2002 edition of The Daily News (Lebanon, Pa), popped up on my computer screen. The article listed the men killed in the deadly wreck. Three of the names I had heard before, but listed there was a fourth name: Ronald W. Thomas (47) of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
I sat there staring at my computer screen. Meyer Cemetery John Doe had a name. Meyer Cemetery John Doe was Ronald Thomas.
This revelation has me facing a landslide of questions I know are not going to be easily answered. Why was this the first – and last – time his name shows up in the newspapers? I searched for his name in the newspaper archives and this article, which ran in a handful of newspapers on March 9 and 10, 2002 – this is the only time Ronald Thomas is mentioned by name in connection to the deadly accident.
How long had he been identified before the March 2002 announcement? Why wasn’t there an announcement in the local newspaper stating he had been identified? Why was he still listed locally in many places as “Unknown Male,” if he was identified? Since his death, the cemetery records show him as a John Doe. Why weren’t these places ever informed of the identification so their records could be updated?
Why did Amusements of America at the time have no record of him? In 2000, they should have had some record of Ronald Thomas somewhere, even if he hadn’t been working for them full-time at the time of the crash.
But the most important question is: Who was Ronald Thomas? All that was revealed was he was 47 and lived in Stroudsburg.
I still have a lot of questions, but I realize those questions will most likely never be answered. I finished paying respects to the accident victim before leaving Ronald Thomas resting in the rear of Meyer Cemetery, an unidentified man who now has his name back.