CUYAHOGA FALLS — When it came to not letting a horrendous experience ruin one’s life, it could be said that Phyllis Cottle was a champ.
After she was raped, beaten and blinded in a 1984 attack, Cottle went on to spend the remaining nearly three decades of her life as an advocate for crime victims and the blind.
“She was amazing, kind, she welcomed anyone into her home, even after what happened,” Cottle’s granddaughter Samantha Headrick said on Thursday. “She didn’t let what happened hold her down.”
One mission that Cottle, who died of cancer in January 2013 at 73, undertook was keeping the man who attacked her in prison, a fight that her family is continuing in her memory. Samuel J. Herring, 62, is expected to come before the Ohio Parole Board in July. An exact date has not yet been announced.
“Basically I ask everyone to write a letter or sign the petition to help us keep him in,” Headrick said. “I really don’t want this man to be out on the street and possibly do this to myself, my mother, my cousin, my daughter or even to someone else’s family. I don’t want this to happen to someone else.”
Herring was convicted in Summit County Court of Common Pleas of kidnapping, rape, aggravated robbery, felonious sexual penetration, felony assault, aggravated arson and attempted murder in connection with the March 20, 1984, attack.
According to Justice for Phyllis, a Facebook page set up as part of the campaign to keep Herring behind bars, Cottle was abducted at knife-point while going to lunch in Akron, taken to a vacant home and “repeatedly raped, robbed, tied up then stabbed in both eyes (resulting in total and permanent blindness), locked inside her vehicle which he then set on fire.”
Herring was then sentenced to up to 290 years in prison. The attack came two months after he was paroled from prison after serving time for an aggravated burglary conviction.
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Herring, who last came before the parole board in 2009, is currently incarcerated in the Richland Correctional Institution.
Headrick said that more than 1,200 signatures have been collected on petitions, mostly online, that must be presented to the parole board by Friday for a hearing as early as July 1. The petitions are at change.org/p/ohio-state-parole-board-keep-samuel-j-herring-behind-bars or change.org under a search for “Samuel Herring.”
Comments can also be sent to the parole board directly by either going to drc.ohio.gov/parole-board/contact and filling out an online form or by mail to Ohio Parole Board, 4545 Fisher Road, Suite D, Columbus, Ohio 43228 or fax to 614-752-0600. Include Herring’s name and inmate number, A180009, in any correspondence to the board about his parole hearing.
“This man was out only two months when he did this to my grandmother, and it was her wish that he stay in prison,” Headrick said.
In an August 2009 Cuyahoga Falls News-Press story, shortly before Herring came before the board in September, Cottle said she was nearly certain that Herring would be denied parole, as he was, but the “slight little possibility [that he would be released], that scares the daylights out of me.”
But those who knew Cottle said she did not let that fear rule her life.
In a 2013 News-Press story, friends and family described Cottle as “independent” and “upbeat,” refusing to feel sorry for herself or even to hold a grudge against Herring.
“Many people called her an inspiration, a hero,” Headrick said. “An all-around great woman. She didn’t live in fear after what happened to her.”
She also became active with the Akron Blind Center. Shortly after her mother’s death, Cottle’s daughter Dianne Cannady said she saw her mother’s advocacy for the blind as her legacy.
“She wanted people to understand that blind people were just people with different needs,” Cannady said. “She wasn’t afraid to talk to someone ‘higher in the ranks’ to let them know that their services were not user-friendly to the blind or any other disabled person.”
Reporters Phil Keren and Ellin Walsh contributed to this story.