Late Tuesday afternoon at the Moss Justice Center in York, a father of four named Jason Ray Grant waited his turn. The one-time Fort Mill wrestling coach stood up and pleaded guilty – admitting he had left his four children alone in his truck for four hours on the day after Thanksgiving 2015.
Also in the truck with the kids – ages 13, 11, 7 and 5 – guns and ammunition.
He pleaded guilty to felony unlawful neglect of a child charges.
“I would never intentionally put my kids in danger,” said Grant, who once coached wrestling at Fort Mill High School and has taught youth wrestling clubs.
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Grant told Circuit Judge John C. Hayes III that he was supposed to drive his children to see family in Virginia. Instead, he made it a few miles before leaving them alone for four hours, his truck parked at the fuel pump of a gas station on Riverview Road near Interstate 77’s Exit 82.
Under the seat and console of the truck, police found guns and ammunition. Police also found drugs in Grant’s possession.
He stopped to use the bathroom and to try to revive himself – wash up, brush his teeth – he said. He did not say why he stayed in the bathroom for four hours.
Sometime over the course of those four hours, prosecutors said, Grant’s youngest child had an accident and was wrapped in a blanket because his clothes were soiled. The child woke up, they said, without an adult in the parking lot of a gas station in Rock Hill.
Grant swore to the judge he hasn’t used narcotic opioids for years, saying the drugs the police found were to keep him from continuing to take opioid pain medication prescribed after six surgeries.
Citing Grant’s clean prior criminal record, Judge Hayes sentenced him to probation and sent him home. He must register with the state’s child abuse database, and a 10-year prison sentence hangs over his head if he violates the terms of his probation.
“I can’t think of a more horrifying situation of what could have happened,” Hayes said. “The exposure you created for them – it is almost unimaginable what could have happened.”
Still, Hayes said, he believed – after hearing the facts of the case, “as bad as they are” – that what happened was an “anomaly.”
The facts being guns and bullets and kids left alone in a truck for four hours around uncountable strangers.
‘Vulnerable, with no supervision’
Cops arrived at the gas station that November morning when employees called police. An officer found Grant in a bathroom stall, where he had been for four hours, 16th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Erin Joyner said in court. Grant had changed clothes and had bags of clothes and other belongings in the stall, Joyner said, including a pipe and amphetamines. Grant was arrested. The children were handed over to their mother.
“The danger he placed the children in, that nothing bad happened to the children was luck,” Joyner said. “He left them alone, in the dark. ... They were vulnerable with no supervision. A stranger could have found them.”
The kids woke up in the truck and had no idea where their father was, Joyner said, until three hours into the incident when two of the boys went in the bathroom and Grant gave one of them money and told them to pump some gas into the truck.
The enclosed truck bed had been fitted with a mattress for the trip, Joyner said, and the kids were on top of it with their belongings along with a dog and a bowl, a TV and a video game console.
And the guns and bullets.
The facts of the case “seem to indicate drugs figure heavily in this case,” Joyner said, and Grant had already had the opportunity to deal with a drug problem through drug court in 2007 after a burglary arrest. Drug court is an alternative prosecution where convictions are wiped out if a defendant meets mandatory requirements.
Joyner dropped the drug possession charges Grant also faced from the November incident but still asked for an active prison sentence for the four felony unlawful neglect charges.
Grant’s lawyer, 16th Circuit Assistant Public Defender Phil Smith, said Grant had worked a long day before the incident and that he had decided to stop because he knew he was too tired to drive. The oldest child knew where Grant was and none of the children were harmed, he said.
Smith called Grant’s staying in the bathroom for four hours while his children were unattended in the truck a “regrettable decision.”