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After a man and his son witness a horrific murder, their settlement is a step toward reclamation

  • Todd Hosmer leans against his truck at his home in Royalton, Vt., after returning from dropping off a car at the junkyard on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Hosmer suffers from post traumatic stress after witnessing the murder of his sister Wanda Sanville in 2018, and says he still hasn’t been able to accept what happened. “I don’t think I ever will,” he said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Leeland Hosmer, 9, pets his dog Zeus while trailing behind his father Todd Hosmer at their home in Royalton, Vt., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Todd Hosmer recently settled a lawsuit he filed against the state of Vermont and six employees of Hartford Probation and Parole alleging gross negligence for allowing Frank Sanville to be released on furlough, during which he killed his estranged wife Wanda Sanville. “They’re responsible for what happened,” Hosmer said of the state. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Todd Hosmer watches police search along Happy Hollow Road in South Royalton, Vt., on March 4, 2018. Hosmer said he and his family were staying at his sister Wanda Sanville's home when her estranged husband, Frank Sanville entered the home and shot her. Hosmer said he managed to then get the gun from him. Family member Gail Shute of Springfield, Vt. waits with Hosmer and other family members while police search the area. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

  • Frank Sanville, of South Royalton, Vt., glances back at family members while taking a seat at the defendant's table with his attorney Robert Sussman at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on July 27, 2022. Sanville pleaded guilty to second degree murder in the March 2018 death of his wife Wanda Sanville and aggravated assault with a weapon after pointing his rifle at brother-in-law Todd Hosmer. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Geoff Hansen

  • Leeland Hosmer, 9, rides his dirt bike at home in Royalton, Vt., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Leeland has had behavioral issues and has struggled in school because of the trauma caused by witnessing the death of his aunt, but he loves anything with a motor, his mother Rachel Chapin said. “He’s been able to jack up a car since he was three,” she said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Wanda Sanville in an undated family photograph. (Family photograph) Family photograph

  • Todd Hosmer, of South Royalton, Vt., talks to the media about the trauma he and his son have gone through since Frank Sanville shot and killed his wife Wanda Sanville in front of Hosmer and Hosmer’s five-year-old son in March 2018. Frank Sanville pleaded guilty to second degree murder and aggravated assault with a weapon in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on July 27, 2022. Hosmer is Wanda Sanville's brother and currently lives in the home where the crime occurred. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

  • Rachel Chapin kisses one of her goats at her home in Royalton, Vt., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Wanda Sanville’s family members rehomed several dozen of her animals, including goats, chickens, ducks and cats, after she was killed by her estranged husband in 2018. Chapin said she wished she had known she and Todd Hosmer would later move into Sanville’s home because she would have kept the animals and continued to care for them on the property. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2022 11:30:23 PM
Modified: 9/24/2022 11:29:34 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — The 9-year-old boy rips up and down the dirt road on his new lime-green mini Kawasaki motorbike, the din of the 110cc dirt bike heard throughout the backwoods hollow.

“Watch cars!” “Be careful!” “Keep your helmet on!” shouts his father, Todd Hosmer, from the front yard of their home on Happy Hollow Road in South Royalton.

Hosmer follows his son, Leeland, armored in a chest protector vest and calf-high boots, as he circles about.

Leeland wants to show his dad a jump, a suggestion that is quickly nixed.

“When you become Evel Knievel, then you can jump,” Hosmer tells him.

Hosmer, 58, said there is a reason he indulged his youngest of 11 children with a new $5,000 mini dirt bike.

“I never had one of those when I was a kid,” Hosmer said in an interview earlier this month as Leeland gleefully and repeatedly buzzed past. “After all the trauma he’s been through? That’s why I let him have fun. … I don’t let him out of sight.”

The trauma Hosmer was referring to occurred March 4, 2018, when Frank Sanville entered the home of his estranged wife, Wanda Sanville, and shot and killed her in front of Hosmer — her brother — and Leeland, who was 5 years old at the time and sitting on the couch next to her playing a video game.

A negligence lawsuit Hosmer brought against the state of Vermont and five probation department officers in 2021 said Wanda Sanville’s murder left psychological scars on the survivors. The complaint also details how probation officers handled the case of Frank Sanville, who had been released on furlough only 12 days earlier after pleading guilty to assault charges against his estranged wife.

The lawsuit was settled recently, but the two sides offer vastly different descriptions of the settlement.

According to a copy of the agreement provided by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, which stipulates it is not to be “construed as an admission of liability” by the defendants, Hosmer was paid $50,000.

Hosmer, however, maintains the payout he received was nearly $10 million — “$8.9 million after they took everything out,” he said — although he is not able to provide documentation to back up the higher figure.

“It hopefully woke up the state,” Hosmer said of his lawsuit and settlement. “It should never happen to anyone again. I’m glad I kicked their asses.”

Hosmer was represented by Sharon attorney Allison Ericson, who did not respond to messages for comment.

“We are pleased that this matter could be resolved and hoping that the family that the family can begin the healing process after this tragic event,” said Joshua Diamond, deputy attorney general of Vermont.

Wanda Sanville had just prepared her brother a cup of coffee and sat down to play a video game with her nephew when Frank Sanville appeared in the doorway and fired a .22-caliber rifle. He shot her in the head, causing her body to “fall on top” of Leeland, Hosmer recalled last week.

A few feet away, Hosmer managed to grab Sanville’s rifle, smash it into Sanville’s forehead and beat him with its stock. Hosmer and Leeland escaped to the house across the road and called for help.

Frank Sanville pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a weapon in July and is awaiting sentencing.

The shooting haunts the father and son every day, Hosmer said while seated at a table among the junked cars and large appliances and other debris collected for his scrapping business outside his home, where he lives with his partner, Rachel Chapin, who is Leeland’s mother, and Hosmer’s 24-year-old son, Zach.

“I flash back all the time. No matter what I do, I wake up, that motherf----- coming at me, blood all over my sister,” Hosmer said, describing images he can’t shake from his mind.

Hosmer believes if he hadn’t overpowered Sanville, “he would have shot all three of us, no doubt.”

He remains racked with guilt over his sister’s death.

“I was here to protect her, and I failed,” he said.

 

 

Wanda Sanville’s murder at age 48 was especially outrageous, Hosmer charged in his lawsuit, the work of a repeat offender whose release on furlough days before the shooting was a colossal dereliction by probation officers.

The lawsuit, which claimed gross negligence in Sanville’s furlough and infliction of emotional distress on Hosmer, alleged numerous missteps by the parole department in managing Sanville’s case.

The settlement of Hosmer’s lawsuit avoids a potentially embarrassing public trial where Department of Corrections officials would have had their handling of Frank Sanville’s furlough scrutinized, based upon the record of events and the allegations in the lawsuit.

Although circumstances of Sanville’s furlough have been previously reported, Hosmer’s 13-page civil complaint offers new details in how Hartford probation officers managed Sanville’s case and alleged that probation officers were lax in assessing Sanville’s risk, given his criminal history and prior violations of parole, to be released into the community.

Hosmer alleged that probation officers ignored pleas from Wanda Sanville’s family that Frank Sanville was trying to contact her and threaten his estranged wife in disregard of a court order. One probation officer even cast doubt that Frank Sanville could even make phone calls because “she had purportedly taken his phone,” the lawsuit said.

Probation officers “simply ignored (Hosmer’s) repeated reports that Frank Sanville continued to contact and threaten Wanda Sanville” and “did not take any measure to reduce the obvious risk of harm that Frank Sanville presented to Wanda Sanville and her family. Nor did (probation officers) otherwise respond appropriately to the reports that Frank Sanville continued to contact and threaten Wanda Sanville while he was on furlough,” the lawsuit said.

The state denied those specific allegations in its answer to the complaint. However, the state did not counter the claims by citing actions officials did take in response to the family’s concerns.

 

 

Chapin, 40, describes Hosmer as “protective, caring, a hard worker.”

But she’s noticed a difference in him, too.

“Since this happened, little things will send him. It sucks, but if I want to be with him, I got to deal with it,” Chapin said last week. She spoke while moving salvage around the yard because Hosmer wanted “things cleaned up” before he returned from a run of delivering scrap metal to a recycling facility in Waterbury, Vt., where one of his sons also works.

Leeland, she said, also has had challenges.

While he shows a talent for math, there have been some behavioral issues in school, and he struggles with reading.

Hosmer mostly supports himself financially by “junking,” as he calls it, collecting truckloads of scrap metal he strips from discarded items — cars, major appliances, plumbing and electrical materials — that people drop off in his yard. A truckload of metal can fetch $1,200 to $1,500; he makes multiple trips each week to the recycling facility.

“Hard work, but it’s an honest living,” Hosmer said of junking.

Despite his claim of a multimillion-dollar settlement with the state, Hosmer doesn’t plan to change his lifestyle.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you want to live there? Your sister died there,’ ” Hosmer said of their home on Happy Hollow Road.

His sister had asked her brother to stay with her because she feared for her safety from Frank Sanville’s furlough: “It’s hard to leave.”

Hosmer — who smokes two packs of L&M cigarettes daily — said he won’t stop working, either.

“I’m not going to sit down like a fuddy-duddy,” he said.

Never having had a debit or credit card, Hosmer said he prefers dealing strictly in cash. The home on Happy Hollow is heated with wood.

Wanda Sanville kept a menagerie of animals; Hosmer and Chapin have kept five goats, three dogs, three ducks, three cats and 15 chickens.

A fourth dog, a shorthaired Dachshund named Scooby, died last week at 17 years old. Hosmer buried him behind the house next to two other pets, Jazzy and Daisy.

Life is good in the hollow, according to Hosmer.

A nephew lives a couple houses down the road, and neighbors know each other.

One neighbor allows Hosmer to keep more than 50 junked cars on his property, which Hosmer has stripped for parts.

“I just pretty much stay here, go to the junkyard and back,” he said.

His favorite leisure activity is watching the stock car races at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre during racing season. His son who works at the recycling facility in Waterbury has expressed interest in racing

“I’m going to help him buy a car,” Hosmer said.

 

 

By his own admission, Hosmer is no Boy Scout.

“I’m well-known for being a badass in my day,” he said, adding that he’s seen the inside of a jail cell “a few times.”

“My whole teenage years, I was in and out,” he said.

First married at 17, father of 11 kids ranging in age from 9 to 38 with four different mothers, Hosmer finally got around to getting his first driver’s license last year when he was 57 years old.

“It used to be there was one cop for every three towns.” Hosmer said, explaining his attitude toward being a licensed driver was “catch me if you can.”

But “now there are 10 cops for one town,” he said, and that ups the chance of getting nabbed.

Until he quit drinking 10 years ago, Hosmer said he spent too much time “being drunk, being stupid.”

He had to change his ways — and not only because of the toll rough living was exacting on his body.

“I got tired of waking up in jail and didn’t know how I got there,” he said, noting his problem was mostly “drinking and fighting.”

When he was young, Hosmer said he’d boxed at a club in Brattleboro, Vt., and earned the nickname “slugger.”

He’s managed to keep his temper under better control. he said. And, Hosmer said, the lawsuit settlement forced him to do something he had never done: open a bank account.

“I’m a legal beagle now, mister. I like it that way,” he said,

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.


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