Driver Charged For Wreck That Killed Fellow EMT

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TUNKHANNOCK — People in Wyoming County have mixed opinions after learning that an EMT has been charged with homicide by vehicle for a crash that killed a fellow EMT.

It was a wreck that stunned the Tunkhannock community back in May.

The two ambulance workers were on their way to help at another crash when they wrecked.  Tom Gruen was killed and now police say the driver Jeffrey Plata is to blame.

Six months after the deadly crash along Route 92 near Tunkhannock, there’s still a cross hanging on the tree mangled when a pickup truck plowed into it.

Now, the driver of that truck is accused of causing the wreck.

Police have charged Jeffrey Plata with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving and more.

Plata and Tom Gruen, both Tunkhannock ambulance EMTs, were on their way to help at another crash, when they crashed.  Gruen was killed.

“It’s a double tragedy, that’s for sure.”

Bob Stevens knew Gruen well.  It seems much of Tunkhannock did. His death stunned and saddened the community. But despite Gruen’s personality and popularity, some people are also saddened hearing about the homicide charges.

“It’s a shame, it’s a shame.  He meant well.  Nothing was intentional there. That’s a shame, I think,” said Stevens.

In arrest papers, police say a sensor in Plata’s pickup truck showed it was going 74 miles an hour when it crashed. The speed limit along Route 92 is 45 miles an hour and that night, it was pouring rain.

“He was on his way to help someone out.  He didn’t mean to kill the other guy, he didn’t want to get hurt himself in this accident but accidents happen,” said Judy Vibbard of Dimock.

Plata posted a tribute to Gruen at the top of his Facebook page. He too lost a friend.

The district attorney acknowledges what happened wasn’t intentional but he says it was a crime.

The D.A. says just because Plata was a firefighter and EMT heading to a crash, didn’t justify reckless driving. It resulted in a loss of life and no one disputes that was quite a loss.

“Very good guy, good guy. Well liked, good for the community,” Stevens added.

If convicted, Jeffrey Plata could find himself in prison for a year or more for the involuntary manslaughter and homicide by vehicle charges.


  • ginger

    Its like this! I commend any person or persons who volenteer to save lives! With that being said i knew Tom and no he would not want this but what if your child happened to cross the street at the time Plata was driving over 70 and killed them? If it was your mother brother father anyone, you would want that person to be held accountable. I understand he was trying to help someone in need and i am grateful for people like him but it was raining way too hard for him to be driving like that. I feel like they are taking the right action no one is above the law!!! I do pray for Tom’s family and Plata along with his family! I hope they find him not guilty but teach him a lesson!

    • Donna Wolthouse

      Ginger, – It is also like this – how could you even begin to think that lessons have not been learned by Jeff, and so many more in the community. How can you not think that he holds himself accountable every day? The person following him says there is no way he was going 70. They were only going 55. The report says 70. How does hydroplaning effect that report when the wheels lose all traction? How fast is too fast when your loved one is crushed in a car wreck and bleeding out by the second. When one minute is the difference between life and death? Would it have been ok if it was in the ambulance instead of his own truck? Is it ok for Police? I do not condone using highspeed. I hope that our judicial system is one to teach and not destroy another life. The media is not the place to try this case. The only true fact is that none of us have all the facts or in a place to pass judgement. Jeff drives for a living and I hope they will see the hours upon hours that he safely travels our roads everyday.

      • ginger

        Donna if you would have read my comment you would see i dont want him to be found guilty! I just want people to realize just because you have a light on your vehicle does not mean you get to drive as fast as you want. Responders were already at the scene of the accident he was going to. I realize this was an accident and im sure mr. plata feels guilt but in the same sense how would you feel if it was someone you did not know personally that killed someone you loved? I never passed judgment i was just expressing my opinion. I also did not say anything about him driving his own vehicle i dont care if its police ambulance i commend people for doing what they do i just feel like its the law and should be followed by everyone. And i hope that EVERYONE in similar situations can learn from this. I feel terrible for mr. plata but just like you said you heard from someone behind them that they were going only 55 i heard from someone that mr. plata always drove like that! Cant believe everything you hear!!

    • Donna Wolthouse

      I fully agree with Lady Paramedic that said “Ye who is without sin cast the first stone.” The other quote that has been stuck in my head for quite some time is “there but for the Grace of God go I”.

      Ginger, I guess we can also agree on many things. We both hope that losing Tommy taught many lessons to many many people. I hope that then next time we are all faced with making safety decisions, everyone will make better choices than they have in the past. We both hope that Jeff is not found guilty but has learned the lessons he has learned. Both our prayers are with all of the families involved. We both can agree that this has been a horrible tragedy. I pray that it ends here. I have forgiven the driver that hit me and changed my life forever 20 years ago even though I deal with horrible pain every day, because it was an accident. So yes I could forgive. Tommy’s girls have forgiven Jeff even though they live with the pain of having lost a father, because it was an accident. One thing I am certain of, Jeff will never forgive himself. That pain will never go away. I pray that you and I both never have to live with that kind of guilt.

  • Lady Paramedic

    “Ye who is without sin cast the first stone.” There isn’t one of you here that can honestly say you have NEVER driven over the speed limit. You just got lucky and didn’t get caught or hurt anyone. Does that make you any less guilty? Nope! My heart goes out to the driver who set out to only help a stranger and ended up injuring and ultimately killing his best friend. I for one belive he has punished himself more than any court ever could and people need to see this as it is…a TERRIBLE ACCIDENT!

  • Donna Wolthouse

    One evening last April I sat watching Jeff Plata, and his best friends, Tommy Gruen and my husband Dave, horsing around together. With a laugh I thought, there are my three stooges that one day will be grumpy old men together. They love each other as brothers in such a special way. It is wonderful that they have each other.

    As many of you reading this letter know… just one month later the unthinkable happened. A call went out to the everyday heroes of the emergency services to assist in a rescue effort. It was a horrible night of heavy rains; the kind of night that most of us sit warm and dry in our homes; the kind of night that roads are unsafe, so the rest of us stay off them. Not these guys, no matter how bad the weather and the roads. Our Community called and without regard to their own safety, they answered as they have hundreds of times before. While responding to the call, the car driven by Jeff, and in which Tommy was a passenger, hydroplaned, striking a tree. Before the second call could even come in for help, Dave pulled up behind the accident involving Jeff and Tommy. Dave took charge of the scene and he and Jeff did everything they could to save their best friend as his life slipped through their fingers. The men who serve, the men who save, were not able to save one of their own.

    Tommy passed on to be with our Lord that fateful night.

    Jeff began his life of service to his community at age 14 with the North Moreland Fire Department. Years later, he continues the service he feels called to as a member of North Moreland Fire Department, Triton Fire Department and Tunkhannock Ambulance. His Brethren in the Fire Departments, many members of the community, the family of Tommy Gruen, Jeff’s family and friends continue to stand behind him during this difficult time. His hearing before the magistrate in Tunkhannock, across from the Tyler Hospital will take place on Thursday 12/18 @ 11:30 to determine if the case will be held over for trial and I for one will be there to show my support.

    It is my prayer that the Lord watches over Jeff as he goes through the judicial process. It is my hope that a Judge, with the power to determine whether or not the case goes to trial understands the life-long personal punishment that Jeff continues to endure, the tragedy it would be to punish him further, and the tragedy it would be to allow this case to move to the point that Jeff might no longer be able to be a member of the emergency services that our community depends on. If my home were on fire, if my child was in an accident, if my community were flooded, if my loved one had a medical emergency, it is his face I would like to continue to look to. Service is a part of his makeup and we are lucky to have him as a part of our community. It is his dedication I would like to continue to applaud. It is his commitment that continues to hold true.

    The next time you are late to work, remember this story, the next time you are frustrated with the person in front of you going slow, remember this story. The day you get a call that your loved one needs the life or death response of a first responder, remember this story. It is easy to judge from the sidelines. It is easy to let someone else take the risks and dedicate his life to his community while you sit back. I applaud you if you are able to sit there in judgement and say that you have never put someone elses life at risk. Chances are you did and were just lucky enough to not have to pay the tremendously high price that could have been paid. I know I stand amoung the flawed mutitude of people that were just lucky this story is not about them.

  • Nancy gotschal

    It is a shame my cousin was killed in this accident. That is what it was an accident but a kid in Texas that killed 4 people by being drunk gets 10 years probation because his parents are rich well where is justice here. Jeff I don’t know u but please keep chin up you did nothing wrong but going a little faster than u should have.

  • Paramedic

    You should hear some of your posts. “Tom wouldn’t want this?” “I can’t believe he’s being charged for driving over the speed limit”.

    1. you can’t ask the deceased victim if he wants to press charges.
    2. Plata has been charged for the death that resulted in his driving over the speed limit. When he drives as recklessly as he allegedly did (let’s not forget he can still face a jury and be found not guilty), it rises to the level it has.

    3. We are no good to anyone if we don’t get there. Everyone needs to slow down. I don’t think you all would sound the way you do if Tom was alive and Plata killed a pedestrian or someone in another vehicle. We should be held to a higher standard when driving emergency vehicles. 72 in a 45 mph zone in the pouring rain = dumb and reckless!

    • joe schmoe

      Well, first of all, he wasn’t driving an emergency vehicle. 2nd of all, Tom was his friend. Lastly, you don’t have to ask a dead person what he would want. Knowing Tom, most of us would know the answer.

  • Anonymous

    My prayers are with Jeff, and the entire ambulance company. They are a family… when one is lost, they all feel it. And when one is hurting as badly as Jeff is, they feel it. They’ve already been through so much this year, this is such a shame.

  • anonymous

    So sad all the way around!!! My prayers go out to Jeff. I understand both sides of this! But it is all so very sad! :(

  • Jason Cooper

    This is an over-all sad situation. However, First responders are legally bound to all traffic laws, same as civilians. If I were in need, a family member or friend..yes, I would want them to get there as quickly as possible. First responders, specifically, volunteers are vital to small, rural areas. They are the true, unsung hero’s. That being said, that day was rainy and the truck was found to be going over 70+ mph. That’s pretty negligent. No, Tom would not want this, but the law is the law and maybe this will save another life.

  • Anonymous

    It amazes me how this can be considered involuntary manslaughter or homicide by vehicle but not to long ago my father was working during the day, gets hit and killed by a guy who was speeding and not paying attention, never stops after hitting my dad, continues driving to work leaving my dad for dead along side the road and he gets nothing! I don’t understand the justice system at all! It just sickens me

  • disappointed

    What is our justice system coming to? I would think there are more “crimes” that could be prevented, and “criminals” to be prosecuted! This is a disgrace,and so,so wrong! I have to agree with most posts on the fact that ,Tom Gruen would not have wanted this,I’m sure Jeff Plata has suffered enough,has to live the rest of his life with the accident that took the life of one of his closest friends, the need to prosecute him is so uncalled for. Isn’t that why accidents are called just that? Accidents? I hope someone comes to their senses!! I can’t speak for everyone but most are in agreement that this shouldn’t be happening..God Bless you Jeff, sending thoughts and saying prayers for you, you are a great person , don’t let any of this change you…Tom is with you and watching over you, I’m sure of it…..

  • Unbelievable

    This was just that, a terrible ACCIDENT. I cannot believe that a first responder is being charged for driving over the speed limit. Does this mean that no first responder is to drive ocer the speed limit because if thats the case then why do cops get to drive however the hell they want to? These two men, who are and were two of Tunkhannock’s finest. Jeff, so many people are sorry this is happening to you, especially when you were trying to do something good. Im sure Tom is up there trying to help you out.

    And by the way, saying that Tom wouldnt want this is a complete understatement. Its a tragedy that we lost him but it was a horrible accident.

  • Anonymous

    This was an unintentional accident. It was just that. Tom would not want this. Not by any means. He was driving too fast I agree give him probation or community service. Moving violation he didn’t set out to do this that day. Tom and Jeff being good friends is a huge understatement.

  • sara

    My heart goes out to you. I too went through the Wyoming county “justice ” system. I truely know what your going through.But for me just as for you I too was innocent. You are in my prayers. And trust me,this will make you a stronger person! ALWAYS REMEMBER THIS: HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH! They can ruin you name but don’t let anybody ever take your dignity. You are a wonderful man. May God watch over you.

  • anonymous

    Jeff is a good guy and he is always there to help people when its needed. I was an EMT with him at one time. I think every EMT has went faster than the speed limit at times. Especially when someone’s life is depending on you to help them. I know its wrong and you shouldn’t speed but when you are the one waiting for the ambulance or police or fire department, those 3 minutes could seem like 3 hours. I know he would never intentionally hurt anyone. The accident was trajic…yes.. but it wasn’t intentional.

  • Joe Schmoe

    I tell you what, Mr. Tom Gruen would not want this. Charging authorities should be ashamed! So many more problems where laws could be enforced other than this. This poor volunteer lost a close friend and now he gets to be made into an example. Sad. Embarrassing. My heart goes out to you Mr. Plata. You don’t know me, but I know you and you don’t deserve this. You will be ok no matter what comes of this.

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