MANATEE -- Exactly five years ago today -- March 21, 2009 -- former Braden River High School football coach Josh Hunter lost control of his Ford F-150 with three passengers onboard as he was trying to merge onto Interstate 75 from State Road 681 in Nokomis.
In the resulting roll-over crash, Hunter, who had been drinking at a colleague's cookout, lost his best friend, Doug Garrity, and, eventually, his freedom.
But at 9 a.m. Wednesday, a group of Hunter's friends and his and Garrity's family came before the Florida Clemency Board in Tallahassee to ask to have Hunter's 10-year prison sentence for DUI manslaughter reduced to four years, which would leave 20 months left to serve, said Molly Kellogg-Schmauch, a Florida Parole Commission spokeswoman.
"The outcome of the request was that the governor and cabinet took the case under advisement," Kellogg-Schmauch said Thursday. "That means they will review the materials and will make the decision at a later time."
The Florida Clemency Board is comprised of Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.
To reduce the sentence requires Scott's vote along with two other board members, said state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who spoke at the meeting on behalf of Hunter, whom he has known for 20 years and played football with at Southeast High School.
"I support a commutation of his sentence because I feel the community would be better served to have someone like him speaking to students to talk about the dangers of drinking and driving rather than him sitting in jail," Steube said.
Hunter was found guilty May 17, 2010. He began serving his sentence May 15, 2012.
Hunter's representatives had 10 minutes to present their case Wednesday -- and Hunter, himself, was not there -- but they made an impact on the board, especially Dehlia and John Garrity, Doug Garrity's parents, Steube said.
"I told the board that I know my son, and my son would want Josh to be able to continue to do what he and Josh were doing together, to mentor children," Dehlia Garrity said Thursday. "I told the board that Josh being in jail for 10 years is a waste. He needs to be home talking to young people and telling them that the decisions they make can change their lives in a second."
It's unusual for the victim's parents to support the perpetrator of the crime, and some of the Garrity's friends don't understand her decision, Dehlia Garrity said.
"They didn't know Douglas," Dehlia Garrity said. "They don't know the relationship John and I have with Josh. Josh is like a son to us. They don't realize that to heal you have to put aside the things that inhibit your life."
Putnam said he's never seen a case where the victim's family has asked for a sentence to be commuted, Steube said.
According to Kellogg-Schmauch, only one sentence has been commuted under Scott's term.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.