The eyes of the 46-year-old mother welled up once again as family members reminded her that, yes, she too is a victim of her son.
Lisa Frye moved her trembling hand from the wound in her throat to her thigh and back again as she recounted what happened the night she was attacked in her Southington home.
Frye said that when she went to bed June 22, she had it all: the man she loved, her home, her belongings and her son.
Within hours, all of that was gone.
“Nothing seemed out of the ordinary that day. I thought everything was fine. I thought it was like any other night. Obviously it wasn’t,” she said.
Frye has spent the time since that night in recovery. On Friday, she underwent her fourth, and what she hopes is her final, surgery. A knife wound to her neck resulted in a tracheotomy. Until recently she also relied on a feeding tube.
Friday’s surgery was to close the trach and remove a feeding tube.
She said the most difficult part of the healing process is the fact that it was her 29-year-old son, Thomas J. Starr, who tore her world apart.
Starr is awaiting trial in the stabbing death of 53-year-old Jeffrey Westfall, with whom Frye shared a home for 24 years. He is also accused of stabbing her, his mother, multiple times.
In July, Starr’s attorneys, Matt Pentz and David Rouzzo, filed a motion to have a mental health expert test his competency. Last week the attorneys declined to comment on specifics of the case but said they are waiting on the results of a mental evaluation by a state psychologist.
Starr, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, is being held at the Trumbull County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond. His pretrial in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court was postponed last week to allow for the psychological evaluation to be completed.
Meanwhile, Frye, who has not had any contact with Starr since the attack, said her son suffers from depression and anxiety.
She said Starr, who was living with her and Westfall, had become upset when he had to get rid of his dog and later when he was told he he had to move from their Southington home. His family said they never imagined he would lash out physically.
“He was in the military, and when he came back, he wasn’t the same,” said Frye’s mother, Donna Klasic.
“He isn’t our T.J. anymore. He isn’t the T.J. we know and love. He’s someone else. Our T.J. would have never done something like this.”
If you listen closely as Frye speaks, you can hear a whistling sound coming from her neck. To quiet that “noise,” she covers the wound with her hand. That steady movement of hand to thigh to throat has become habit – part anxiety and part necessity. She was unable to speak for several weeks after being stabbed.
She explained that the home she and Westfall shared in Southington was a rental. She has been living with her parents on the West Side of Youngstown since being released from the hospital.
She said that she and Westfall were never legally married but that they had made a commitment to each other during a special ceremony.
Westfall made a living transporting area Amish people.
“My parents do everything for me. They have a hard enough time with their own expenses. They pay for my medicine. They help me with my doctor’s appointments, my food, my medical bills, everything. I have nothing. Jeff was the breadwinner and he took care of everything.
”It’s so hard and I feel so ashamed because T.J.’s my son. Part of me feels responsible and I feel like Jeff’s family, his children, blame me as well as T.J.”
She said she has had some contact with the 19-year-old son she and Westfall have together. He is living with Westfall’s brother.
“We were a family. Jeff’s children, T.J, our son together, they were all brothers and sisters. They were raised together and acted like brothers and sisters. This whole thing has torn us all apart,” she said.
Because she was in the hospital, she was not able to attend Westfall’s funeral. She said she also hasn’t had any contact with his children since shortly after the attack.
Frye said that she was awakened from a sound sleep that night by Westfall’s screams. She had gone to bed after watching TV earlier in the evening.
“He kept crying and yelling and asking why. I saw that he was covered in blood and I tried to help him. I tried calling 911 but I couldn’t get the call to go through. I don’t know why. It was all so confusing,” she said.
Frye said she made her way outside into the dark night and traveled down the long driveway from the couple’s A-frame home to the road, where she collapsed. At some point she realized she also had been stabbed, possibly while she was sleeping, she said.
“I was trying to get help and as I was going down the driveway, I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker. I fell, collapsed several times, maybe three or four times, but somehow got back up,” she said. “I could feel the blood, that I was bleeding.”
At least one passer-by thought she was a teenage boy playing a hoax, she said.
“There is a kid out here covered in blood that was flagging us down,” the caller told 911 dispatchers who answered the initial call.
When questioned about the child’s age, the caller said he didn’t get out of the vehicle because he did not know if this was a “set up.”
Once emergency crews arrived, Frye said she remembers begging them to “go help Jeff.” She passed out and woke up the next day in the hospital.
Soon after that call, a man identifying himself as Starr called the Trumbull County 911 Dispatch Center and told the operator that he tried to kill his stepfather, Jeff, and his mother, Lisa.
Starr, seemingly disoriented, said he called because he needed someone to talk to, and that he was lost in the woods.
When asked how he tried to kill them, Starr responded: “With a knife.”
Frye said she may never know what caused her son to turn so violently against her and the only father he had ever known. She said that maybe in time she will be able to forgive him.
“Sadly, I can’t even look at him now. I know I couldn’t face him. I don’t want to see him, and that breaks my heart. He’s my son. We loved him. Jeff really was the only father he ever knew. I don’t know why or how he could have done this. I may never know,” she said.
Investigators found Westfall dead near the front porch of his home on state Route 305 with his throat slashed.
Frye was also found stabbed, but alive, on the road on Route 305, three-quarters of a mile west of U.S. Route 422. She was flown by helicopter to a Cleveland hospital and spent two months there.
It took authorities more than an hour to locate Starr in the wooded area he had wandered into.
Starr was initially charged with the felony murder, but after hearing additional evidence, the grand jury determined that Westfall’s death was premeditated and increased Starr’s charges to aggravated murder, which call for prior calculation and design in the killing.
If convicted, Starr could face anywhere from 20 to life in prison or life without parole.