Fire victim's ex-boyfriend jumps from Tarentum Bridge
Two distraught families waited on either side of the Tarentum Marina on Thursday night while crews searched the Allegheny River for the body of a man who jumped from the Tarentum Bridge.
Relatives of Michael Swiklinski, 43, of Tarentum huddled on the shore, waiting in vain to see if rescue divers and firefighters using sonar from boats would find his body before they called off the search for the night.
Across the parking lot, family members of Swiklinski's former girlfriend, Tina Slomkoski, wanted to know the fate of the man accused of assaulting her three weeks before she was critically burned in a fire at her Harrison trailer early Wednesday morning.
“This is a nightmare for both families,” said Slomkoski's mother, Edna Slomkoski of South Carolina.
She gestured to where Swiklinski's family gathered on the other side of rescue vehicles: “I feel for them. At least I still have my daughter.”
“He's going to be dearly missed,” said Swiklinski's tearful sister, Christine Kowalski of South Buffalo.
“We love him,” Kaylah Moucheron, 23, of Harrison said of the father who liked to take her on fishing trips.
Tarentum police Sgt. Mark Glogowski said witnesses on the Tarentum Bridge reported seeing a man park his Chevrolet Malibu on the New Kensington-bound lanes and jump off the unfenced, downriver side of the span about 7:30 p.m.
Witnesses at the marina reported seeing the man fall in the middle of the channel between Tarentum and New Kensington.
“He didn't come back up,” Glogowski said. “All indications are this was a suicide.”
Raymond Rose of Brackenridge said he was fishing along the shore in Tarentum when he saw the man jump.
“He jumped right off, and I didn't see him come up,” Rose said. “He didn't yell or nothing. I never expected that. It was scary.”
Rose said people on a boat near the mouth of Bull Creek navigated to where the man fell but didn't find him.
Glogowski said some witnesses believed something was wrapped around the jumper, but Glogowski could not confirm rumors the man had weighted his body.
Glogowski could not confirm the jumper was Swiklinski or that the car on the bridge belonged to him. Swiklinski's family members said it was his car.
Eureka Fire Rescue EMS led the three-hour search operation that was called off about 10:45 p.m. Crews seemed to concentrate in an area just under the center of the bridge.
“Unfortunately, this has been a recovery effort,” Glogowski said.
He said he believed Eureka would resume the search in the morning, weather permitting.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Kowalski said.
She said her brother was admitted to UPMC St. Margaret in Pittsburgh on Monday, for reasons she declined to discuss, and released Thursday.
“Why he was released from the hospital, I don't know,” she said.
Swiklinski, using the name Michael Swiklinski Wells, posted several messages on his Facebook account on Monday professing his love for “Tina.” He referenced his struggles with alcohol and apologized several times for unspecified reasons.
“Want my real friends to know just how it really is my life isn't right stuck by myself on the long dark road again no direction at all just trying not to fall i did it to myself,” he wrote in a profanity-laced post just before 7 a.m. Monday, typed as he mostly did, in all capital letters. “When i really had a good women that really was there but i broke her hart with no dismay i think what she wanted was for me to stay not just around but sober and straight i just couldn't do it my brain is so weak now i'm not there my heart is so weak crying and crying just isn't doing it there's so many people i've let down.”
Kowalski and Moucheron denied Swiklinski was involved in the fire that destroyed Slomkoski's Pleasant Avenue home in Harrison.
“He didn't do it because he was in the hospital,” Moucheron said.
The Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office and Harrison police are investigating the cause of the 2 a.m. fire. Slomkoski suffered second- and third-degree burns on 25 percent of her body.
The investigation is in “preliminary stages,” said county spokeswoman Amie Downs. “These don't take days, they take weeks or months.”
Harrison police are waiting for the fire marshal's report, said police Sgt. Jason Acre.
‘Not out of the woods'
Slomkoski was in critical condition Thursday in UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh. Her mother said Slomkoski could talk but faced a long recovery.
“She's not out of the woods yet,” said Tina's sister-in-law, Melissa Slomkoski of Tarentum.
Family and court documents indicate this is at least the second time in July Slomkoski visited a hospital.
In a July 11 application for a restraining order against Swiklinski, she wrote he had thrown her down, punched her, spit on her and bit her face on July 9 about 9 p.m.
“He told me he was gonna smash my face in and then shoot me and then himself,” she wrote. “I told him he was no longer welcome (at her home) because of the alcohol abuse that turns physical.”
She wrote he visited her again after she came home from the hospital on July 11 — crawling through her window.
Harrison police on July 13 and 14 filed charges of simple assault, harassment, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness against Swiklinski, according to court documents.
He was in jail in lieu of $5,000 bond and released July 23 when his bond was reduced.
His family declined to discuss what led to the protection-from-abuse application.
Slomkoski's family said they were angry with him but did not wish for Thursday's outcome.
“Nothing good is going to come from this,” said Melissa Slomkoski.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or email@example.com. Staff writer Chuck Biedka contributed.