Mannix About Manatee: Josh Hunter sobering example for community young

March 23, 2014 

The images of Josh Hunter are indelible even after all the years have gone by.

Images conjured up by news the Florida Clemency Board has heard an appeal from the former Braden River High School head football coach's family and friends to reduce his 10-year sentence for DUI manslaughter.

The first image was from the 2003 state championship weightlifting meet at Lakewood Ranch High School, where he coached the girls team.

When one of Hunter's lifters won her weight class title, she leaped into his arms amidst a cloud of chalk dust and left her handprints on his black T-shirt.

A most joyful moment.

The second image was the extreme opposite.

Hunter was forlorn standing outside Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Catholic Church in 2009 after the funeral mass for his best friend and coaching colleague, Doug Garrity, killed when Hunter rolled his truck after an afternoon of drinking.

Numerous people embraced Hunter, but the Braden River coach was the picture of despair.

His irresponsibility had cost his buddy his life.

He knew, too, the state would exact a harsh penalty, which it eventually did.

Last Friday was the fifth anniversary of the accident.

Poignantly, two days earlier, Hunter's supporters made their plea for a commutation of Hunter's sentence to four years.

Garrity's parents, Dehlia and John, were foremost among them.

They have been stead

fast in their support for Hunter throughout this wrenching ordeal. Their compassion for him is a magnificent testament to the power of forgiveness.

"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 told the Florida Clemency Board.

Whether that makes enough of an impression only time will tell.

Its four members include Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, both inscrutable as they come. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam might be more sensitive to the Garritys' petition.

In addition, what Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, said on behalf of his former Southeast Seminole football teammate, should also resonate with the board.

Echoing the Garritys' sentiments, the legislator said, "The community would be better served to have someone like him speaking to students ... about the dangers of drinking and driving rather than him sitting in jail."

He's right.

Josh Hunter was one heck of a coach.

Our community is well aware of how he derailed a promising career.

Having him here to convey to the young, in Dehlia Garrity's words, how "decisions they make can change their lives in a second," would be profound.

It would also enable Hunter to rebuild his life and, hopefully, return to coaching one day.

If Doug Garrity's parents want to see that happen, who are we to deny them?

May the Florida Clemency Board see the wisdom in it, too.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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