Grovetown man who caused son's death pleads guilty to vehicular homicide

NOTE: The name of the toddler was misspelled in this article in Wednesday’s edition of The Augusta Chronicle. Devin Grates died in 2011. The Chronicle regrets the error.

 

A Grovetown man who caused his son’s death at the end a two-day methamphetamine binge pleaded guilty Tuesday.

James Grates Jr., 29, entered his pleas in Richmond County Superior Court to vehicular homicide, vehicular injury and traffic offenses for the July 27, 2011, crash that took his son’s life.

Devin Grates was 3 years old and incorrectly secured in a child seat when his father crashed his vehicle into a concrete pole at 50-60 mph. According to an eyewitness, Grates was asleep or unconscious when his truck drifted into the left lane, over the median and into the lanes on the other side of the highway, said Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine. The witness and accident investigators reported that Grates never hit the brakes.

Devin suffered severe brain trauma, his spine was snapped and he received other internal injuries. His physician said there was no hope of recovery, Paine said. Devin’s mother gave permission to disconnect the child from life support Aug. 16, 2011.

Grates and Shannon Zumwalt, a passenger inhis truck, also were severely injured.

Blood tests revealed meth and marijuana in Grates’ system, and a witness told investigators Grates had been on a two-day meth binge before the crash, Paine said.

James Walker, of the public defender office, told the judge that Grates is devastated about the crash. He had raised Devin since he was 9 months old.

“Words can’t describe how bad he feels about this,” Walker said.

Walker asked for leniency for Grates.

Paine asked for at least 10 years of imprisonment. Grates had a criminal record that included burglary, manufacturing meth, battery and driving under the influence.

Judge Sheryl B. Jolly sentenced Grates to five years in prison, followed by 10 years on probation. Grates will get credit for the 11 months his spent in jail after his arrest.

The maximum punishment was 34 years.

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