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May 4, 2005

Beaver County shooting shreds deaf family

From: Pittsburgh Post Gazette - Pittsburgh,PA,USA - May 4, 2005

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

By Gabrielle Banks and Joe Fahy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For some who have known the Simich family of Freedom, the saddest part of Monday's double slaying was that the man who is charged with fatally shooting his sister and brother-in-law was so close to them for most of his life.

Thomas Simich Jr., 46, is being held in the Beaver County Jail on two counts of criminal homicide and two counts of reckless endangerment. He is charged with fatally shooting his sister, Marilyn Bergman, 43, and her husband, Steven, 46.

Simich has admitted to the shootings, according to a police affidavit.

What makes the tragedy even more unusual is that virtually everyone involved, including Simich's parents, are deaf or partially deaf.

But what has stunned relatives and family members even more is that Simich was close with his sister and had been friends with Steven Bergman since grade school.

When they were teenagers, they raced cars and worked out together. Later on, Simich Jr. introduced Bergman to his sister.

Don Rhoten, superintendent of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Edgewood, said several members of the Simich family have links to the school.

Thomas Simich Jr. graduated in 1979. Simich's sister, Marilyn, graduated in 1980 and her husband graduated in 1978.

In 1981, Simich Jr. married Lisa Hlavay, a 1979 graduate of the school. They were divorced in 1986. They had two children, who both attended the school.

Simich's parents, Thomas Sr. and his wife, Dorothy, also attended a senior citizens' group that met regularly at the school, Rhoten said.

Reached yesterday at her home in Palm Bay, Fla., Steven Bergman's mother, Virginia, said she and her husband and the couple's four children were still trying to grasp what happened on Monday.

"We can't seem to get out of our minds what they both went through when it happened," she said.

Steven Bergman was born in Wilkinsburg in 1957 and spent part of his childhood in Turtle Creek. He is survived by two brothers who are also partially deaf.

In Florida, Bergman worked as sorter for the U.S. Postal Service and his wife ran her own business cleaning beach homes. He lifted weights and liked gardening. His mother said "he had just built a beautiful shed with his own hands."

"They were in tune with each other, talking and signing," she said of her son and his wife.

A cousin, Richard Hudock, spent most of his childhood hanging out with Simich Jr., his sister, Marilyn, and Steven Bergman.

"I never really knew two people that were more in love than Marilyn and Steve were," Hudock said.

Hudock said the Simich siblings had a typical sister-brother relationship: "They had their spats and they both aggravated each other equally." During the decades the siblings lived apart as adults, they maintained regular contact through TTY technology.

Marilyn and Steven Bergman had been visiting her parents, Thomas Simich Sr., who is partially deaf, and Dorothy, who is deaf, since Friday. At the time of the shooting, the family was discussing plans to sell the family home on Fifth Avenue.

After half a century in the house, the elder Simiches were planning to move to an assisted living facility in Beaver, Hudock said, because the steep front steps were hard for his aunt, Dorothy, who is 83.

In the midst of this discussion, Simich Jr. pulled out a 20-gauge shotgun and began firing. His parents witnessed the entire scene from close range. Marilyn Bergman's blood splattered onto her father's shirt.

Hudock said Simich Sr. told him that Steven Bergman's last act was to try to shield Marilyn from harm.

When the shooting ended, Simich Sr. grabbed the shotgun and ran next door with his wife to get help from a neighbor.

According to a police affidavit, paramedics found Marilyn Bergman on her back with an apparent bullet wound to the neck. She was taken to The Medical Center, Beaver where she was pronounced dead. Steven Bergman was found dead at the front door of the home.

On Tuesday, the steps to the home were still covered with what appeared to be a trail of blood.

Hudock said that Simich Jr. was beaten up and mugged about 20 years ago, while he was living in California and suffered brain injuries. He later "got involved with the wrong people and he got addicted to drugs," he said.

When his marriage ended in 1986, Simich Jr. moved back home with his parents. Hudock said he last saw Simich a few weeks ago but said Simich did not recognize him.

He had been going to therapy and was taking "lots of medication," Hudock said. Simich's parents told Hudock the doctor recently changed his dosage.

"His dad thinks that's what caused [the shooting]."

Dr. Douglas Chen, director of the hearing and balance center at Allegheny General Hospital, said it was unusual for a number of close family members to have hearing impairments.

Michael Karchmer, director of the Gallaudet Research Institute in Washington D.C., said about 5 percent of deaf children have at least one deaf parent, though the percentage is higher if hard-of-hearing children are included.

A 2001-2002 Gallaudet survey of school children with impaired hearing found that about 9 percent had at least one parent who was deaf or hard of hearing. About 13 percent of children surveyed had deaf or hard-of-hearing siblings.

When multiple family members have impaired hearing, "it's more than likely a hereditary type of problem," Chen said.

A number of genetic factors can produce hearing problems, he said.

Often, impaired hearing occurs in a child when neither parent has a hearing problem, Chen said. In those cases, each parent typically carries a recessive trait for impaired hearing.

Hudock said he believes the possible move from his boyhood home was too much for his cousin.
"I think it actually hit Tommy that they were going to move."

"I honestly don't think he understands what he did and how bad it is," Hudock said.

(Gabrielle Banks can be reached at or 412-263-1370. Joe Fahy can be reached at or 412-263-1722.)

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