LAKE IN THE HILLS – As a toddler, Joey Dombroski was shuffled among family members shortly after his mother smashed his father’s face with a sledgehammer nine years ago.
Now, his father’s side of the family fears another foster-care shuffle could place the now 11-year-old boy with his mother, Kelly Dombroski, after his father, Joe Dombroski III, died unexpectedly Oct. 14. Joe Dombroski’s family spent much of this week planning for Saturday’s funeral in Paris, Tenn., unsure whether Joey would be allowed to attend.
“We are hoping and praying that someone from our side of the family gets him,” said Ashley Dombroski, Joe Dombroski’s adopted daughter from a previous marriage. “But right now we’re just getting through one day at time.”
Joe Dombroski, of Lake in the Hills, lost hearing in one ear and sight in one eye after his then-wife attacked him while he was sleeping on a couch Oct. 27, 2001. The couple’s son, then two, stayed with other family members for about two months while his dad recovered from the attack and his mother was incarcerated.
Kelly Dombroski was charged with attempted murder but pleaded guilty to armed violence in exchange for a prison term that anticipated her release in January 2009, McHenry County court records show.
So, Joey Dombroski – according to his father’s family – grew up surrounded by his paternal grandmother, his father, his paternal aunt and cousins and with limited contact with his mother’s family.
But the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services became involved after Joe Dombroski’s death and placed the 11-year-old with his mother’s cousin. His family was told that Kelly Dombroski, who has completed her prison sentence, likely will get custody of him if she wants it, said Bettie Jean Nagamine, Joey’s paternal aunt.
Kendell Marlowe, a spokesman for DCFS, said state law did not allow him to comment publicly about foster care placement. An attorney for Kelly Dombroski also did not comment for this article.
The case is due in McHenry County Circuit Court on Nov. 5.
Kelly Dombroski’s cousin agreed to bring Joey to his father’s funeral Saturday in Paris, Tenn., and to eat dinner with the extended paternal family.
But as of Friday, Joe Dombroski’s family feared nothing would come of his desire and informal arrangements to have his son and the boy’s grandmother live with Nagamine.
Joey had been hesitant to spend the night away from his father since the sledgehammer attack. So when Joe Dombroski was hospitalized for three days with dehydration and exhaustion in August, his family reassured the boy that he would live with his paternal aunt if anything ever happened to his father.
“When his dad got sick, I always told him he would have me and my three sons,” Nagamine said. “He would always have people who loved him. He would live with his grandma and me.”
But Nagamine said the family has not found Joe Dombroski’s will or any other document that formalized that understanding.
McHenry County divorce records show Joe Dombroski received sole custody of Joey when the couple’s divorce was finalized in August 2003. Kelly Dombroski had asked for visitation while the case was pending, but her husband’s attorney indicated that Kelly Dombroski hadn’t followed the right procedures.
In August 2003, the divorce case left child-support and visitation open for when Kelly Dombroski was released from prison.
More recently, Nagamine said her attorney had indicated that Kelly Dombroski’s parental rights never were terminated.
“[Kelly Dombroski] at this point is holding all the cards,” Nagamine said. “It’s very unlikely that they will give him to me.”
A family in mourning
But shortly after the October 2001 attack, a recovering Joe Dombroski was the only parent young Joey had. He had to rebuild his life as a single parent and pressman.
“[Joe Dombroski] hated it when he was hurt, and it was in the paper all the time,” Nagamine said. “He felt like everyone was driving by his house and pointing at him.”
At the time, police said Kelly Dombroski initially told them an unknown assailant must have broken into her home and attacked her husband. However, after repeated interviews with police over several days, she eventually admitted to striking him.
When Kelly Dombroski accepted the plea agreement, Joe Dombroski said he had no idea why she attacked him.
And he told little to Joey Dombroski or Ashley Dombroski, his 21-year-old adopted daughter. When Joey was younger, his father would just say he “got a boo-boo” if Joey asked about the attack, Ashley Dombroski said.
“He really tried to block that part of his life out,” Ashley Dombroski said. “I think it was just too painful to think about it.”
He suffered short-term memory loss, so Ashley Dombroski said she usually called him a few hours before they planned to meet to make sure he remembered. She, Joey and Joe went to a Huntley area pumpkin farm Oct. 10.
“From the way everything went, you never would have thought in a million years that [the next] Thursday was going to be the day my father died,” Ashley Dombroski said. “... I had no clue whatsoever, no time to prepare.”
By Friday, Ashley had picked out the music for her father’s funeral, but she still was upset at the thought of Kelly Dombroski’s family members attending it.
“I feel that DCFS is getting way too close to Kelly’s family,” Ashley Dombroski said. “I don’t feel that this is right. I don’t feel that anyone in her family should be at my father’s funeral.”