Man re­turns class ring lost al­most 40 years

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NEWS - BY SHADDI ABUSAID

MA­RI­ETTA, Ga. — Nearly four decades af­ter Wills High School grad­u­ate Steve Richard­son and a friend died of drug over­doses at a party on Lake Al­la­toona, his class ring was re­turned to his fam­ily.

Richard­son, a 19-yearold car­pen­ter, died along with his friend Steve By­ers on Aug. 19, 1978, af­ter the two drank a lethal cock­tail of Ga­torade and MDA, an 2chedelic, at a house party along Kel­logg Creek in Chero­kee County, the MDJ re­ported at the time.

Fam­ily mem­bers de­scribed Richard­son as hard-work­ing and play­ful, a strap­ping young man who stood about 6 feet, 5 inches tall and ex­celled as a marks­man in Wills’ ROTC pro­gram. But they never found the class ring he al­ways wore, the one en­graved with his ini­tials and set with a deep blue stone. Un­til now.

“I’d com­pletely given up on it,” said Donna Smith, Richard­son’s sis­ter who now lives in Al­pharetta. “It’s been miss­ing since my brother died.”

Cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the 1978 deaths re­main murky, but par­ty­go­ers placed the bod­ies in the lake be­fore trans­port­ing them to a Chero­kee hos­pi­tal un­der the pre­tense the young men had drowned, ac­cord­ing to court­room tes­ti­mony. An au­topsy re­vealed that was not the case as nei­ther had water in their lungs and tox­i­col­ogy re­sults showed both teenagers had in­gested the MDA. Two oth­ers were hos­pi­tal­ized from drink­ing the con­coc­tion and 11 peo­ple from Cobb and Chero­kee coun­ties were ul­ti­mately charged in con­nec­tion with the deaths and sub­se­quent cover-up.

Smith said their mother al­ways won­dered what hap­pened to Richard­son’s ring but was told by in­ves­ti­ga­tors he wasn’t wear­ing one when his body was dropped off at the hos­pi­tal that night.

“They gave us his wal­let and driver’s li­cense but my mother has gone to her grave think­ing that ring was stolen,” said Smith, who was at a loss for words Thurs­day as she drove to meet two strangers to re­trieve it.

Richard­son’s cousin, Doug Ham­mon­tree, a truck driver liv­ing in Lithia Springs, stum­bled upon a post on the Wills High School Face­book page Thurs­day morn­ing stat­ing some­one who had found the 1977 class ring wished to re­turn it to its right­ful owner. He said he im­me­di­ately called Smith, who set up the meet­ing to re­trieve her brother’s long-lost ring on her lunch hour.

The ring was given to Ma­ri­etta res­i­dent Tripp Gree­son by his un­cle last year in the hope he could find its owner, Gree­son said, but ini­tial at­tempts proved un­suc­cess­ful. With the help of a friend, how­ever, and mem­bers of the Wills High School Face­book page who pored through old year­books in search of for­mer stu­dents with the ini­tials “S.A.R.,” — Steve Arnold Richard­son — Gree­son re­turned it to the Richard­son fam­ily.

Gree­son, a Camp­bell High grad­u­ate, said he wasn’t en­tirely sure how his un­cle came across the class ring, but said he owned a home on the lake just north of Kel­logg Creek in the ’90s and may have dis­cov­ered it there.

Smith said she and her mother helped Richard­son pick out that ring, which has a sap­phire stone.

“My mother in­sisted that he get his ini­tials en­graved in­side it and it’s a good thing she did be­cause that’s how they found us,” she said. “They went into the year­book and looked up ev­ery­one with those ini­tials from that year and found his pic­ture.”

Robert Allen Watts pleaded guilty in December 1978 to two re­duced charges of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter in Chero­kee County Su­pe­rior Court in con­nec­tion with the deaths of the two teens, news­pa­per ar­chives show. He was given a five-year jail sen­tence, five years on pro­ba­tion and a $1,000 fine.

Chero­kee County Su­pe­rior Court tes­ti­mony re­vealed the teens had been guests at a three-day party on Lake Al­la­toona where they con­sumed the psy­che­delic mix­ture pro­vided by Watts, the MDJ re­ported at the time.

Five oth­ers pleaded guilty to drug pos­ses­sion charges and tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence af­ter they were given plea deals drop­ping additional charges of con­ceal­ing a death and hin­der­ing the ap­pre­hen­sion of a crim­i­nal. They were given 30-day jail terms and three years on pro­ba­tion.

Smith, who for nearly 40 years thought her brother’s class ring was gone for­ever, said she was elated to fi­nally have it back.

“It’s pretty ex­cit­ing,” she said, wear­ing Richard­son’s ring on her in­dex fin­ger when she re­turned to work. “It brought a lot to my Christ­mas, that’s for sure.”

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