Fatal collision of 2 lives leaves Fort Bragg community in mourning
By GREG BARNES | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: January 24, 2016
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Fort Bragg Command Sgt. Maj. Lynn Edward Ratley had been around the world, leading soldiers and helping people in need.
He had worked at medical centers in Germany and Afghanistan, served as chief clinical sergeant major at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and, most recently, commanded troops with Fort Bragg's 261st Multifunctional Medical Battalion.
Justin Andrew Dunlap hadn't been much of anywhere, save for a stretch in a South Carolina prison.
The paths of the 47-year-old military leader and the 26-year-old convicted sex offender crossed eight days ago, in a screeching tangle of rubber and steel near the intersection of West Mountain Drive and Gillespie Street.
Fayetteville police say Dunlap's black 2000 Honda Accord was traveling south on Gillespie Street when it crossed a grassy center median, veered into oncoming traffic and smashed into Ratley's 2015 Harley Davidson motorcycle.
A makeshift memorial stands — American flags, flowers and a sign — where Ratley lost his life.
Dunlap is back behind bars, being held on $100,000 bail on charges of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, careless and reckless driving and driving left of center.
Saturday afternoon, soldiers carried Ratley's coffin into the auditorium at Robeson Community College, where a long procession of grieving family members and soldiers in dress blues came to pay their final respects.
Justin Andrew Dunlap lives in a peaceful neighborhood of middle-class homes in a rural area off Parkton Road south of Hope Mills.
Peaceful, at least according to his neighbors, when Dunlap isn't around.
When he is, they say, all hell often breaks loose.
It's was that way even when Dunlap was a boy, racing small motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles down the otherwise quiet streets.
As he grew older, the neighbors say, his toys increased in size and power, and so did his actions.
"He is a menace to our neighborhood," said Vernon Pittman, who lives on a cul de sac two doors from where Dunlap was staying with his uncle and grandfather before his arrest.
Another neighbor, who feared retaliation if his name were used, described one of the many altercations he has had with Dunlap.
On New Year's Day, he said, he was walking his dog in the neighborhood when Dunlap came flying around a corner in his Honda and almost hit him.
The neighbor said he yelled at Dunlap to slow down. He said Dunlap screeched to a stop, slammed his car into reverse, jumped out and started yelling at him.
The morning of the day Ratley was killed, the neighbor said, Dunlap had screamed at him again for no apparent reason.
Such stories are common in the neighborhood. Stories of yelling and screaming, nasty fights and domestic disturbance.
Pittman tells of the time he saw Dunlap and about four of his friends dancing around a rebel flag in his yard. Everyone in the group had shaved their heads. Pittman said the incident happened shortly after Dylann Roof was charged with killing nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof told investigators that he had hoped to start a race war.
In the last five years, records show that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has responded 49 times to the Winner's Circle home where Dunlap lives. Most of the calls for service were to check on Dunlap because of his status as a sex offender. But seven were for domestic disturbances, and one was for "past theft."
"This kid should have been locked up a long time ago," said another neighbor, Ken Slankard. "Those of us who have dealt with him knew something like this was going to happen."
Once a month, members of Ratley's 261 Multifunctional Medical Battalion travel to Sunnyside Elementary School, where they read to the children.
Like clockwork, anywhere from nine to 30 soldiers will show up at 7:15 a.m. and read to the kids for about 45 minutes, Principal Sheri Bain said.
The children love having the soldiers read to them, Bain said.
And they loved Ratley.
"He was just a great guy," she said. "He does have a heart for kids, a heart for community."
Last spring, Ratley and other soldiers helped put the school's field day together.
The battalion also provided eye exams, giving glasses to 16 of the 200 children who needed them.
Bain, who attended Saturday's funeral, said she sat next to Ratley at a recent luncheon. He was excited about leaving the Army and "starting the next chapter of his life," she said.
If he'd lived another six months, Ratley would have served 30 years in the Army.
Media reports tell the story of how Dunlap landed in prison.
The reports say he was living in Florence, South Carolina, and working for Dish Network when he went on a repair call to a Myrtle Beach home and asked the customer to remove a tree limb that was blocking satellite reception. When the customer went to remove the limb, the reports say, then 19-year-old Dunlap sexually assaulted a 4-year-old in her home.
N.C. Department of Public Safety records show that Dunlap was convicted in June 2009 and released from prison in April 2010. Those records also show that he will be listed on the nation's sex offender registry for a minimum of 10 years from the date of his conviction.
Cumberland County court records show that a month after leaving prison, Dunlap was charged with drunken driving and was later found guilty.
Those records also show he has a history of speeding and other traffic offenses.
State prison records show that Dunlap was convicted of driving with a revoked license in January 2013 in Moore County. He was sentenced to probation.
Some of Dunlap's neighbors are so fearful of his driving that they began referring to him as "Pumpkin Boy." They say nobody wants to be on the neighborhood's streets near 11 p.m., when Dunlap's probation required him to be home.
The state records also show that Dunlap has 22 tattoos, including the Grim Reaper with an electric chair on his back, demons on his arms and devils on his legs. The word "good" is written on his left arm; "evil" on his right.
At the funeral, soldiers in Ratley's battalion described him in glowing terms.
"He gave soldiers a chance to excel and serve the nation the best way they could," First Sgt. Rafael Colon said.
"He was a great man," Sgt. 1st. Class James Van Tassel said. "He was awesome."
Lt. Col. James Burk, leader of the battalion, thought so, too. Burk said he considered Ratley a member of his family and the "rock of our organization"
A cousin spoke about how he has had tried to emulate Ratley since he was 4 years old.
Ratley was already in the Army by then, but when he came home he lit up the room with just a smile. The cousin said he wanted the same thing, to command such presence.
He said he had read many soldiers' posts on social media following Ratley's death, how they all admired him so greatly.
"He was a hero to heroes," the cousin said.
Ratley, a native of Rowland, is survived by his parents, Adell McCallum of Lumberton and Noah Ratley of Rowland, and his two daughters, Chassidy and Nicole, who live out of state.
Burk said it was obvious Ratley loved being back at Fort Bragg, close to his family.
His daughters wrote heart-wrenching tributes to him after his death.
"January 16, 2016, was the worst day of my life," Chassidy wrote. "You had an accident and were taken from me. As your child, how could I take in information like that? As part of my world, my heart, my soul and me went with you that night."
At the funeral's conclusion, Ratley's father stepped from the warmth of the auditorium back into the ice-covered day that awaited. Directly behind him, soldiers carried his son's coffin.
Noah and Lynn Ratley had been as close as any father and son can be. They played golf together, tinkered on cars and motorcycles together.
"He was a great guy," Noah Ratley said. "He was a buddy, a friend. Anything he could help do for me, he was always there."
©2016 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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