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Man’s behavior after wife’s disappearance focus of civil trial testimony

Most of the testimony heard during a local restaurateur’s wrongful death trial in Westmoreland County described how odd his behavior was during his wife’s disappearance and after her body was found in 2010.

Tuesday was the first of a three-day civil trial in Westmoreland County Circuit Court for Stephen C. Andersen, who runs Good Eats, a restaurant in Kinsale.

A jury of five men and four women will decide whether Andersen should be held accountable for his wife’s mysterious death, which had been ruled a suicide.

Sally J. Rumsey, 49, was last seen at her home Feb. 5, 2010. Her body was found four days later.

A $10 million civil lawsuit was filed by Rumsey’s eldest daughter, Sarah Thrift, which claims Andersen’s “wrongful, negligent, intentional and/or malicious acts” caused Rumsey’s death.

Thrift, Rumsey’s daughter from a previous marriage, claims in the 11-page suit that because Andersen’s actions resulted in her mother’s death, he should not be “receiving a financial reward, profit and/or betterment as a result of that death.”

The suit also seeks to compensate Thrift for her share of the estate that it claims does not properly belong to Andersen because of his alleged role in Rumsey’s death.

Stefan Andersen, Andersen’s son, testified that his father’s behavior was odd after Rumsey’s body was found.

He said his father had a sense of nervousness, he had almost no emotion and was not his normal self. He also said his comments were of concern.

“He said he had to get back to retracing his steps to make sure his story was correct,” his son said on the stand.

Westmoreland Sheriff C.O. Balderson testified that he found it strange that before Rumsey’s body was found, Andersen referred to her in the past tense.

“He stated, ‘I did not have anything to do with my wife’s disappearance. I loved her. She was my best friend,’” Balderson said about his conversation with Andersen.

During opening statements, Andersen’s defense attorney John Harris stated that his client lost his wife of 17 years and has become accused in her death.

“He’s scared,” he said. “When you’re scared you sometimes do things that don’t make sense.”

The suit also alleges that Andersen gave conflicting accounts of the circumstances regarding Rumsey’s disappearance.

Andersen told investigators that his wife stormed out of the house that night after the two had an argument after she found a pornographic site he had visited on their home computer, according to the suit.

The suit claims that the night she went missing, Andersen sent a text message to Thrift claiming that he and Rumsey had “words” about 3 p.m. and that he “didn’t appreciate her attitude.”

The suit claims a third explanation was sent three days later by email to restaurant customers, saying that he and Rumsey “did errands and storm prep” together on Feb. 5, that he then went for a walk in the woods and she was missing when he returned.

The suit also alleges that Andersen told other people by phone that Rumsey was with Thrift the weekend she went missing.

The suit includes an exchange of text messages it claims were sent between Andersen and Thrift in the hours after Rumsey went missing. According to the suit:

At 10:32 a.m. Feb. 6, more than 16 hours after Rumsey was last seen alive, Thrift suggested in a text that Andersen file a missing-person report. He replied two minutes later: “I could but I’m not going to.”

About 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7, Andersen called authorities and officially reporting Rumsey missing.

Rumsey’s body was discovered by law enforcement officials Feb. 9, a few hundred feet from her home. A water bottle, wine bottle and an empty bottle of Ambien were found near her body. She was not wearing a coat, gloves or a hat, according to the suit.

The suit says she died Feb. 5 sometime between 1:30 and 5 p.m. It says that more than three times the therapeutic amount of Ambien was detected in her blood and liver, and a .09 percent concentration of alcohol was found in her blood.

The death certificate classified Rumsey’s death as a suicide caused by “hypothermia due to environmental cold exposure.”

Andersen, the suit alleges, “either caused her to ingest Ambien along with alcohol or knew that she had done so. He then negligently and/or intentionally exposed her to the elements of the winter storm and freezing temperatures for a requisite period of time to cause her death.”


Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419