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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Why this awful thing can’t just go away

You want to say this family has suffered enough. One son dead, another wracked with — at least — survivor’s guilt, the rest shuffling through bleak days of loss and incompleteness. The dad, once effervescent with mischief and ramrod determination, grieves openly and without reservation on his Facebook page, and our hearts clench hard with him.

Joshua Griffin, a bright light and a former candidate for county commission, is dead, killed in a freakish boating accident near midnight last Labor Day eve, and a pall hangs over a family that once seemed to have — and give — it all. We want to say, isn’t their sorrow sufficient?

Of course, we know just the same that’s not how this world operates. Everything is context, and sometimes an accident is not just an accident. Sometimes accidents arrive swaddled in details the Legislature, acting in the interest of its constituents, has made illegal. When that happens, no amount of remorse is adequate to prevent the machinery of the state from doing its work.


This is as it must be.

It’s a hard truth, but a nation of laws cannot allow kinship and emotion to serve as a shield against decisions about whether to prosecute suspected misdeeds, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says alcohol was involved in and material to what went down:

About 11:41 p.m., Jeffrey Griffin Jr., 32 (who goes by Jeremy) was headed west out of the Pithlachascotee River into the Gulf of Mexico in his 23-foot Boston Whaler with Joshua, 29, and friend Denelle Walicke, 25, when the boat smashed a red channel marker.

Walicke told investigators she blacked out at the moment of the collision, then awoke to find Jeremy hauling his brother back into the boat. Meeting them when they returned to shore a half-hour later, emergency personnel from Pasco County Fire Rescue pronounced Joshua dead, the result of blunt force trauma, according to a medical examiner.

Blood drawn from Jeremy nearly three hours after the crash revealed a blood-alcohol content of .093, above the level — .08 — the state presumes impairment.


Wednesday, satisfied that it had assembled the necessary pieces, authorities did what they were obliged to do, issuing a warrant for Jeremy Griffin’s arrest. Apparently not remotely surprised, Jeremy Griffin turned himself in, was processed and soon was released on $10,000 bail.

Listen, with the exception of the maritime angle, it’s not like this situation is even remotely unique. Since last June, the United States has seen at least five instances of siblings being arrested in the accidental death of a brother. Three involved vehicle crashes, two others unintended shootings. If the circumstances add up, authorities must act.

Those necessary preliminaries behind us, what happens now is between Bernie McCabe’s office and Jeremy Griffin’s attorneys, and I would be remiss if I failed to mention the long-serving Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney is a Republican and Jeremy’s parents, Danielle and Jeff Griffin, have been for years prominent in GOP circles in both Pasco and Florida. The Griffins’ Hallelujah Land Ranch, off State Road 52 in Land O’ Lakes, often has served as a gathering spot for Republican fundraisers and rallies.

That said, it’s unlikely the association rises to the level of McCabe having his office recuse itself.

What lies ahead, then, is that phase when the human factors count for something: the brothers’ close bond, Jeremy’s self-punishing remorse, the family’s bereavement. Assuming prosecutors can prove their case, I lack the training, experience or wisdom to sort out what constitutes an outcome that would properly serve the state’s interest in wiping out impaired boating while taking account of a brother’s personal agony.

You wish it all would just go away. You know very well why it can’t.

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