Cleveland dad treks to Tennessee to keep man responsible for daughter's death in prison

Forgiveness continues to elude Garry Douglas.

He hasn't been able to carve from his heart forgiveness for the man who in 1999 killed his 18-year-old daughter and another woman in a drunken-driving crash.

"I probably should," the 55-year-old Douglas said Tuesday. "That's what Christians do. But I can't. I guess I'll have to answer to God for that."

On Tuesday, Douglas sat five feet from Shannon Ratliff, now 34, across a table in a room at the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City. Ratliff was trying to get paroled from the sentence that has kept him imprisoned since his conviction in 2001 on two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.

Throughout the 45-minute hearing, Douglas said he didn't look Ratliff in the eye.

Douglas said he braced himself for days to attend the third parole hearing in seven years for Ratliff. The trip involves a seven-hour drive each way from his Cleveland, Ohio, home and time off from his job. He said it was 18 degrees when he left Cleveland on Monday with 6-8 inches of snow on the ground.

"You know it's going to be emotional," Douglas said.

"I'm a man and we're not supposed to show it. I keep it in, but I find myself tearing up every now and then."

Then he has to decompress for days after returning home.

"It's hard to describe," he said. "It's over, but it's not over. I'll have to do it again. I'd rather not do it again, but I have to — she's my daughter."

Cynthia Douglas was a passenger in a car driven by 21-year-old Misty Carrier when the crash occurred at 10:21 p.m. Sept. 25, 1999. Douglas, Carrier and three other women in the 1969 Buick were students at The Crown College of the Bible, a ministry of Temple Baptist Church in Powell.

They were backing from a driveway onto Beaver Creek Drive after attending a birthday party when the 1996 Ford Mustang that Ratliff was driving at 68 mph slammed into their car. The speed limit was 40 mph.

Ratliff's blood alcohol was 0.23 percent after the crash, nearly three times the 0.08 percent standard of intoxication under state law.

Ratliff already had two drunken-driving arrests before the crash.

Cynthia Douglas and Carrier died in the crash. The other three students were injured, including two with broken pelvises, but survived.

Ratliff garnered a prison sentence of eight to 26 years. He was denied early release in 2006 and 2011.

According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, Ratliff's sentence already has been shortened by five years and 11 months for good behavior, educational and counseling credits. Each month in prison garners more credits, so his sentence will be lessened even more if he is denied parole.

Ratliff, his wife and his father appeared Tuesday at the Mountain City prison for the parole hearing. Board of Parole Chairman Charles Traughber heard the case from an office in Nashville via a video conference, according to Melissa McDonald, spokeswoman for the board.

Misty Carrier's brother, Scott Carrier, participated in the hearing via video from a Johnson City office of the Board of Parole.

Garry Douglas said neither Ratliff nor his wife, Margo Ratliff, said a word of condolence or apology directly to him. Shannon Ratliff has never corresponded with Garry Douglas since the crash.

Margo Ratliff addressed Traughber, Garry Douglas said, pleading for her husband's release.

"She was pretty emotional," Garry Douglas said. "She was crying. She said he was a changed man and should be judged for what he is now."

Garry Douglas Jr., 28, who made the trip with his father, told Traughber he often found himself wondering if Cynthia Douglas today would be a married woman with children.

"Unfortunately, he has to visit her in the cemetery," Garry Douglas said.

He said he also wonders what life would be like if his daughter had lived.

"You never get over it," he said.

After the hearing, Traughber decided to deny parole for two more years at least because of the seriousness of the crime, McDonald said. Now the other five members of the board will review the hearing transcript and cast a vote. Four members of the board have to agree on a decision for it to be final. McDonald said that process takes several weeks.

Garry Douglas said he was encouraged by Traughber's decision. Traughber said releasing Ratliff now "would be a mockery of justice," according to Garry Douglas.

"Two years from now, I'll be back again to speak up for justice for my daughter," he said.

"I hope by being there, the parole board knows she meant something."

 

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