Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Looking for the Mark Lunsford we once knew

He was this long-haired working man who smoked unfiltered Camels and made his living driving a dump truck.

When we first saw Mark Lunsford in the news, he looked desperate, then grieving, then fiercely resolved — everything the rest of us might have felt if, God forbid, we had to spend a minute in his shoes.

After the murder of his 9-year-old daughter Jessica at the hands of the sex offender who lived across the street, Lunsford seemed like this everyman, this everyfather. The motorcycle man went to Tallahassee and stood near the governor as he signed sex offender legislation called the Jessica Lunsford Act into law. He took his crusade nationwide. Last year, Gov. Charlie Crist encouraged him to run for the state House.

Imperfect, rough around the edges, Lunsford seemed a man who had channeled grief and anger into trying to change things.

Once, he said he blamed no one for Jessie's murder save for John Couey, the pedophile druggie who awaits his fate on death row.

And then, nearly three years to the day that his daughter disappeared, the news broke that Lunsford plans to sue the Citrus County sheriff, a man he once said was like a brother, as well as the county and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Why did we find this so distasteful, so disappointing?

Maybe we're lawsuit-weary. Maybe we're tired of people who expect a payoff, who lay blame for big bucks, who want to turn tragedy into profit.

But is that Mark Lunsford?

Not all lawsuits are about the gratuitous lining of pockets.

Sometimes, that kind of money can help a wronged person get as close as possible to what life was like before —maybe paying for long-term care, or replacing someone's ability to earn a living. (Which wouldn't seem to fit this case, since a girl in third grade is obviously not a family breadwinner.)

An even better reason: big money damages can tell governments or companies they can't take advantage of people, can't carelessly ignore them, can't behave so irresponsibly that people get hurt or even die.

Or at the least, a successful lawsuit sends the message that it's going to cost them, big time.

The most noble reason of all: change for those who come after.

Lunsford's lawyers contend that Jessie did not have to die, that she was alive for days, that investigators went to Couey's trailer four times before they asked to go inside on the fifth day she was missing. They also say investigators wrongly focused on Lunsford's father.

Officials have said they believe she died within hours of being kidnapped. The sheriff has vehemently refuted Lunsford's claims and defended his investigation.

Time will tell how all this will shake out.

It's interesting to note that Lunsford's lawyer, Eric Block, says his client "agreed to drop the lawsuit if the sheriff will admit that he messed up, that he made mistakes, and then work with us to come up with a comprehensive plan" for when a child goes missing. Lunsford has said suing is the only way he can get policies and procedures changed, and that he would give money beyond lawyers' fees to charity.

That at least starts to sound like the Mark Lunsford we thought we knew.

Looking for the Mark Lunsford we once knew 02/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 3:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa-based makeup artist disqualified from contest over pro-Trump post


    WICHITA, Kan. — A makeup artist who splits her time between Tampa and Kansas says she won a national contest sponsored by Kat Von D Beauty but was later disqualified because of an Instagram post supporting Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.

    Gypsy Freeman won the contest with this image posted to Instagram. [@facesofgypsy on Instagram]
  2. Flesh-eating bacteria nearly kills Florida man who thought he just had blisters from a hike


    Wayne Atkins thought little of the blisters he had gotten while hiking. He was trekking up and down the 4,500-foot-high Mount Garfield in New Hampshire - a 10-mile round trip - and blisters were no surprise.

    Wayne Atkins thought his blisters were from hiking, but the flesh eating bacteria nearly killed him. [YouTube]
  3. Yes, again: Rays blow late two-run lead, get swept by Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As weekends go, this was a bad one for the Rays. In a word: brutal.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger, foreground, reacts after giving up a home run to Texas Rangers' Carlos Gomez during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 23, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) FLMC116
  4. White House offers muddled message on Russia sanctions legislation


    WASHINGTON - White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that the Trump administration supports new legislation to punish Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression toward Ukraine.

    President Donald Trump at the commissioning ceremony for the USS Gerald R. Ford  at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, July 22, 2017. [New York Times]
  5. 'Stranger Things' is coming back; here's the first trailer


    The nostalgia-heavy, small-screen blockbuster Stranger Things returns to Netflix with a new season on Oct. 27 - just in time for a pre-Halloween weekend binge session.

    A scene from the Stranger Things Season 2 trailer.