Thursday, September 19, 2002

A father's lament

'If I'd had just one more day'

        “One more day,” Pete Ridder says tightly, “and I think I coulda saved her.”

        Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. We parents second-guess ourselves all the time.

        Maybe if I'd given her a tougher curfew.

        Maybe if I hadn't let him borrow the car.

        This is more anguishing. Pete Ridder's daughter, Sara, was murdered, and he thought he was in a position to protect her. Pete, 49, is retired now. Before that, he was Sgt. Pete Ridder, with 22 years on the Cincinnati police force and Fraternal Order of Police president.

        Savvy. Connected. And helpless.

        “There's police tape around Sara's house,” he was told in a panicky phone call from his sister-in-law on April 15. “I knew right away what had happened. I never shoulda let her go back there.”

Blue in the face

Sara Ridder
Sara Ridder
        Not that Sara always listened to him. Pete tried to tell her that her boyfriend was bad news. Many times. “I talked to her until I was blue in the face.” By now they had three children together.

        Finally, Pete says, William David Boyle punched Sara once too often. And she wasn't 18 years old anymore. She was 24 with a good job as a 911 operator. Even though she was afraid of him, she told him they were through. Then she lived in fear. Changing her phone number. Getting an escort to her car after work. Staying with her folks for a while.

        Pete says he knew the guy had cuffed his daughter around. “Maybe if I hadn't been a police officer, I'd have gone after him. I tried to let the judicial system work.”

        But the system has shamefully small penalties for domestic violence. A year in prison after the second offense. A year in prison after the third. A year for the fourth offense. And so on.

        You're a lot better off repeatedly roughing up your mate than, for example, getting caught repeatedly with a stash of crack cocaine.

        “Most of the time, he didn't leave marks. Maybe a couple of bruises,” he says. But it doesn't become felonious assault, with stiffer penalties, until prosecutors can prove serious physical harm.

        Just pulling out chunks of hair, punching and shoving don't count.

        Sara's children — ages 5, 3 and 2 — are living with their aunt and uncle. “The kids ... The kids found Sara,” he says. “They tried to wake their mother up.”

        Five months after Sara Ridder was shot to death through her apartment door, William David Boyles has been charged with complicity to commit her murder. Prosecutors say he hired someone.

        The 27-year-old man, who was on an electronic monitoring device as punishment for hitting Sara in March, denies all charges. He also is accused of an earlier burglary and assault.

        He is innocent until proven guilty. Pete Ridder knows that. But he also knows his daughter was abused and threatened. He knows she was afraid.

        And he keeps thinking he could have done more.

        “Sara and I were going to talk to the prosecutor. If I'd had just one more day, I might have saved her.”

        Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda. This tormented father did the best he could.

        With the laws we have.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer or phone 768-8393.



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