Phyllis Cottle of Cuyahoga Falls, advocate for crime victims, the blind, dies

by ellin walsh | Reporter Published:

It was as a victim of crimes too horrible for words that a Cuyahoga Falls woman found her voice. Her reason to persevere. Her legacy.

Raped, beaten and blinded with a knife, Phyllis R. "Bobbie" Cottle was left to die in a burning car almost 29 years ago. But she survived and became a vocal proponent for victim's rights -- her own included -- and the rights of the blind.

Cottle, 73, died of cancer Jan. 25. Although her voice has been silenced, her daughters pledge to honor her memory by carrying on her fight.

Cottle's assailant, Samuel Herring, had been paroled from prison two months before his attack on Cottle took place.

Although he was convicted of the crimes against Cottle and sentenced to between 169 and 300 years in prison, Herring's punishment did not preclude bids for parole. Cottle repeatedly protested parole consideration for Herring, marshalling community support and signatures on letters and petitions to keep him behind bars.

Herring will next be considered for parole in July 2019.

"We are planning to continue the letter-writing campaign to the Ohio Parole Authority [whenever Herring is considered for parole]," Cottle's daughter Dianne Cannady says, adding, " … Mom hoped that we would do that but never actually asked. It is something that all of us -- family and friends -- want to do."

Lucy Dobbins, who describes herself as Phyllis's "best friend" for 28 years, says Cottle chose not to dwell on the attack or the limitations blindness placed on her life, like no longer being able to drive or to immerse herself in her beloved hobby, photography.

"It was like she consciously decided not to let him [Herring] take anything else from her. She didn't even hold a grudge against him -- and she certainly didn't indulge in feeling sorry for herself," she said.

Describing Cottle as "a very independent woman," Dobbins says Cottle raised three daughters and still took care of her home and yard.

"The only thing she couldn't do was mow the lawn," Dobbins reports. "She said, 'I know I can do it, but it might look pretty crooked.'"

Cannady says she considers her mom's legacy to be her advocacy on behalf of the blind.

"She wanted people to understand that blind people were just … people with different needs," she said. "[And] 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."

Barb Comshaw met Cottle at the Akron Blind Center, where a friend taught sewing.

''Phil, as I knew her, was always upbeat," Comshaw says.

Later, when Comshaw began teaching a sewing class there, she says it soon became apparent that Cottle had not always been blind.

"One day I asked how she became blind," Comshaw says. "Phil was very matter-a-fact as she told me of the events leading to her blindness. I was appalled -- This monster was out on parole from an earlier rape and thought by blinding and killing her he would escape identification. Well, thank God Phil lived -- he was identified and is now in prison, hopefully forever."

"I will always be amazed at her strength and courage as she learned how to survive and go on to thrive in a completely dark world," Cottle's daughter Robin Headrick says, adding, "Even with everything she went through, she always stayed positive."

Mike Davis, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, says the department's records indicate that 4,443 protest letters/signatures have been received expressing opposition to Herring being paroled since his crimes against Cottle.

"Phyllis taught me a lot," Comshaw says, "Our only limitations are those we place on our selves -- that is Phyllis Cottle's legacy to us all."

email: ewalsh@recordpub.com

phone number: 330-541-9419

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