Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Palm Harbor man dies when motorized wheelchair is struck

John Romanak, 86, celebrating his birthday with his stepgreat-grandchildren, Jason and Alina Allen, was a World War II veteran.

Family photo

John Romanak, 86, celebrating his birthday with his stepgreat-grandchildren, Jason and Alina Allen, was a World War II veteran.

PALM HARBOR — John Romanak had a routine. The 86-year-old World War II veteran would ride to the Hess Service station at 5:45 a.m. for his morning coffee and conversations with the clerks and customers.

As the sun rose, Romanak would navigate his motorized wheelchair down the Alderman Road sidewalk near Alt. U.S. 19. He'd cross the four lanes where there was no median and head to the Chatterbox North Family Restaurant and sit for hours, again talking to the staff and customers.

That routine ended catastrophically Wednesday when Romanak was struck and killed as he tried to cross Alderman at 6:04 a.m. He was hit by Kelli Borenstein, driving a 2007 Honda sport utility vehicle. He was thrown from his 2007 Jet Ultra 7 motorized wheelchair and landed near the road's bike path, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Romanak, an Army medic who earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star during the war, was flown to Bayfront Medical Center. At 7 a.m., the man who everyone said kept a smile on his and others' faces died.

"He was a really nice man and is going to be missed by a lot of people," said Dawn Hamel, a waitress at Chatterbox North. "He was always good for a laugh. We would just laugh all the time. I'm still in shock."

Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the Highway Patrol said no charges were filed Wednesday, though an investigation will continue. According to the patrol's report, alcohol was not a factor and Borenstein, 38, of Tarpon Springs was not injured. She declined to comment.

Gaskins said Romanak was not using a crosswalk.

A father of four, Romanak moved from Pennsylvania to Palm Harbor in 2000 to live with his daughter, Denise Doulgeris. He was a construction laborer before retiring.

Doulgeris said her dad could walk but had back trouble because of years of construction work and a car accident. He gave up driving in 1999 and turned to the motorized wheelchair. Romanak bought his first one in 2001 and got a new one last year.

"The only way of being out of the house during the day was the wheelchair," Doulgeris said. "He had that jazzy chair all through the neighborhood and knew everyone. He knew neighbors that I didn't even know."

At the Chatterbox North, Romanak would sit in his favorite booth where he could see the Alderman Road traffic. After his favorite meal of sirloin steak and french fries, Romanak could be seen moving up and down the sidewalks along Alderman Road.

Romanak was to go to Pennsylvania on Sept. 6 to spend three weeks with his son. Hamel said he talked about how excited he was about the trip.

Now, Romanak will be returned to Renovo, Pa., where his ashes will be sprinkled on the family farm.

"He was congenial and an easygoing man but yet opinionated," Doulgeris said. "He was friendly, and everybody liked him."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or

Palm Harbor man dies when motorized wheelchair is struck 08/27/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 31, 2008 6:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Manhattan Casino controversy resumes after taking a break for Irma

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration has once again found itself defending its controversial choice of the Callaloo Group to open a "Floribbean" restaurant in the historic but currently empty Manhattan Casino.

  2. At Menorah Manor, planning paid off during Irma

    Nursing Homes

    ST. PETERSBURG — Doris Rosenblatt and her husband, Frank, have lived in Florida all of their lives, so they know about hurricanes.

    Raisa Collins, 9, far left, works on a craft project as Certified Nursing Assistant Shuntal Anthony holds Cassidy Merrill, 1, while pouring glue for Quanniyah Brownlee, 9, right, at Menorah Manor in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15. To help keep its patients safe during Hurricane Irma, Menorah Manor allowed employees to shelter their families and pets at the nursing home and also offered daycare through the week. The facility was able to accommodate and feed everyone who weathered the storm there. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. Carlton: The cross atop the church that moved, and other strange tales from Hurricane Irma


    Down in Miami, the famous tan-don't-burn Coppertone Girl on the side of a building lost her head — part of it, at least, the top of her blond hair lopped off in the fierce winds of Hurricane Irma. ("At least her tan line and doggie weathered the storm," the Miami Herald noted optimistically.)

    Hurricane Irma partly decapitated the Coppertone Girl in Miami. [Miami Herald]
  4. After Irma, nursing homes scramble to meet a hard deadline

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida's nursing homes and assisted-living facilities find themselves in an unfamiliar place this week — pushing back against Gov. Rick Scott's administration over new rules that require them to purchase generator capacity by Nov. 15 to keep their residents safe and comfortable in a power …

    In this Sept. 13 photo, a woman is transported from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as patients are evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma in Hollywood. Nine have died and patients had to be moved out of the facility, many of them on stretchers or in wheelchairs. Authorities have launched a criminal investigation to figure out what went wrong and who, if anyone, was to blame. [Amy Beth Bennett | South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP]