Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Derek Jerome, a Republican candidate for the state legislature, is dead of an apparent suicide.
Friends found the 38-year-old Jerome dead in his antique Cadillac convertible Tuesday afternoon, the car still running, filling the inside of his garage on Redstone Hill Road with poisonous carbon monoxide.
"It's an absolute tragedy," said T.J. Barnes, who chairs the Bristol Republican Town Committee. "He had so much going for him."
Jerome leaves his wife, Teri Jerome, and two sons, his six-year-old namesake D.J. and six-month-old Brandon, as well as his mother, Nancy Jerome of Bristol.
"Economics were a major factor here," said Barnes, who said Jerome left a note. "It was one of those things where you see no way out."
Jerome was in an uphill race for the 79th state House seat against Democratic incumbent Rep. Frank Nicastro.
"How sad," Nicastro said Tuesday. "I just feel terrible for the family."
Jerome had been active in local Republican politics for years, working for the town committee and waging two previous unsuccessful campaigns for the same House seat.
Jerome believed so strongly in giving voters a choice that he would agree to run races against entrenched incumbents, Barnes said.
In May, Jerome said it was important for the public to get ideas from both sides of the aisle.
But Barnes said that this is a time to remember that there are a lot more important things going on in the world besides the politics that people argue about, "such as two little boys who are now without a father."
Barnes said Jerome, who ran a title search company and other businesses, "tried to live the American dream," and was in the process of starting a new company.
"He was an entrepreneur," said Barnes, adding that is it "not an easy time to be starting a new business."
Barnes and fellow Republican Henry Raymond said they were searching for Jerome on Tuesday.
"We went all over the place, looking for him," said Barnes. They were back at Jerome's place by 3:30 p.m.
"We were there when they pulled him out," said Barnes, who said he would "never think anybody would come to this."
Jerome's death left his friends struggling to understand the loss of a smart, funny man.
"This whole act is out of character for Derek," said Barnes.
"I lost a good friend today," Raymond said. "My heart goes out to the whole family."
Karen Pio, a friend of Derek and Teri Jerome, said he was a man "brimming with self-confidence."
He cared deeply for his family, Pio said, and was "a devoted father and husband."
Jerome loved animals and had recently adopted another dog, said Pio, and was always willing to lend a hand.
"He was a really generous guy," said Pio, and "a good friend."
Pio who relied on Jerome's help with the Greater Bristol Property Owners Association, where Jerome had been a former vice president.
"He picked up things so quickly," said Pio. "He was a parliamentarian."
Barnes said Jerome was "very detail-oriented" and helped write the bylaws for the town committee – a job no one likes to do.
Nicastro said he spent about an hour talking with Jerome last August at an event in Forestville.
There was a dunking tank, said Nicastro, and Jerome's son, D.J., was throwing balls with good aim, much to his father's delight.
While D.J. was busy dunking the people in the tank, Nicastro and Jerome spoke about keeping the campaign clean.
Nicastro said he walked away from the meeting thinking well of Jerome.
"He was a perfect gentleman to me," said Nicastro.
Barnes said the emergency medical responders, police and firefighters who came to Jerome's house were "very impressive" in how they handled a difficult situation.
"They were a class act," said Barnes. -- Co-written with reporter Jackie Majerus
A little addendum: We couldn't justify the space it would take to explain in the story for the paper about why they couldn't find Jerome in "his garage," but let me do it here.
Jerome was in the running car in a garage in his former house, across the street from his new house. He owned both of them. So while it might have been hard to miss a running Cadillac in the garage of the home where his family lived, it was easier not to notice it across the street.
In the end, someone did hear the engine running, and they soon found where Jerome had been since the middle of the night sometime.
It's not clear how long the engine was running, but we were told it had been on for many hours and that it was surprising the car didn't catch fire.
Because the timeline is unclear, we don't know whether Jerome died late Monday or sometime Tuesday.
I should add that I couldn't find the police shift commander tonight to get an official version of events.
Wednesday morning update - Police Lt. Edward Spyros told the Associated Press that Jerome's death was a likely suicide. No surprise there, but some people, including some of my editors over the years, prefer to hear it from the police instead of eyewitnesses,
Also, I've been asked whether there is a fund of some sort to help Jerome's family. At this point, I haven't heard of one, but I'd be stunned if one isn't formed. I'll post information about it as soon as I hear any details. I know there are many kind-hearted people out there who would like to help Jerome's wife and boys. I wish Jerome had just asked for that help instead of taking the course he did because I think he might have been surprised at how generous this community can be. I've seen it directly on a number of occasions.
Wednesday night update:
For details from the police report, check out Adam Benson's story in the Press.
And you can find the details on a fund created to help Jerome's children here.
Here's his obituary:
Derek R. Jerome Sr.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org