Columbia teacher accused of having sex with student


Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Deputies arrested a teacher and coach at a private Christian school in Columbia County on Monday, accusing him of having sex with a female student.

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office charged Richard Dale Parrish, 32, of Suwannee County with engaging in an unlawful sexual act with a minor, the Sheriff's Office reported.

Suwannee County Sheriff's deputies arrested Parrish on a pending warrant at his home, officers reported. He was released from the jail Tuesday on a $25,000 bond.

Parrish allegedly had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student he had once taught and coached, according to deputies. He made promises to her that he would leave his wife and family and they would run away together, the Sheriff's Office reported.

The teenager and Parrish had talked about their feelings and tried to stay away from each other, the girl later told officers. But eventually they met at a Days Inn hotel on U.S. 441 North in December where they had sex for the first time, she said.

Deputies reported Parrish denied he had any physical involvement with the girl that would be considered sexual.

Parrish, who resigned from the school over the weekend after deputies learned of the allegations, had worked at Lake City Christian Academy for about three years, the school's administrator, Tana Norris, and the Sheriff's Office reported. He coached different sports and also taught some of the school's advanced, college preparatory classes.

Norris said Parrish was a youth pastor. Parrish was a minister affiliated with a Lake City area church, First Assembly of God, but had resigned over the weekend, the Sheriff's Office reported. No one at the church could be reached by phone Tuesday to comment on the investigation.

The girl acknowledged the relationship to her parents after they confronted her last week about recent messages Parrish had left on the student's voice mail, a report stated. The messages said he missed her, loved her and couldn't wait to see her again.

"This is a case where a male authority figure and role model took total advantage of his influence over this young lady," Columbia County Sheriff Bill Gootee said.

Before learning last week about the extent of the relationship between Parrish and their daughter, the girl's parents had taken her out of Lake City Christian Academy and placed her at Columbia County High School because they became suspicious of a number of phone calls they had discovered between the two and letters and cards he had given her.

The family also found out Parrish had given their daughter a credit card.

Norris said she had talked with the girl's parents and Parrish about the student leaving the school. But, at the time, she and the girl's parents didn't know about the relationship between the teacher and student.

"We didn't know what was going on," Norris said. "We just felt like the best thing would be for her to go somewhere else."

Norris said, before hiring Parrish, the school did an extensive criminal background check on him that included verifying any criminal history with the FBI. He had none.

"There were no red flags," Norris said. "He had very good references. They all gave him very high recommendations. We weren't aware of anything. All of our teachers are stunned."

Parrish faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted as charged, the Sheriff's Office reported.

No one answered the phone at Parrish's home Tuesday.

Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gville sun.com.

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