David J. Grover may be a cokehead, but that doesn't excuse taking a 4-year-old girl from her home and joyriding for five hours, a judge said Thursday.
"Drugs are no excuse for what you did," Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza told Grover. "What you did was basically torture and torment a family and place a little girl in grave danger."
Grover, 29, of Belmont Avenue, Town of Tonawanda, was sentenced to three to six years in state prison for first-degree reckless endangerment and second-degree unlawful imprisonment, charges to which he had pleaded guilty May 31 to avoid a threatened kidnapping indictment.
His April 2 drive through Amherst and the Tonawandas triggered a broadcast Amber Alert for 4-year-old Serenity Platts of North Tonawanda. She was returned home unhurt, at least physically, at about midnight.
Christa Platts, the girl's mother, tried to speak in court but was crying too hard. Assistant District Attorney Caroline M. Wojtaszek had to read the woman's statement for her.
It said Serenity has been placed in counseling because since the incident, she's been throwing tantrums and otherwise acting out. "She has nightmares of David Grover coming to take her," the statement said. "We have a lot of sleepless nights."
The mother also wrote, "Understanding some of David Grover's 'issues,' as he would call them, I never thought in a million years he was that thoughtless and cold and a predator."
Defense attorney Mark D. Grossman said, "It is not a stranger taking this girl for a ride. . . . She referred to him as Uncle D.J."
Wojtaszek said she had wanted the maximum sentence of 3 1/2 to seven years. "The fact that David Grover returned Serenity led to the plea in this case," she said. "I don't think any more consideration should be given to the defendant."
Grover said, "The biggest mistake I made was four years ago, when I started doing drugs."
He apologized to the Platts family and said, "I am not a pedophile and I am not a predator. I have three children of my own. . . . I would never in my life harm Serenity Platts, and I never had any intention of hurting her."
The girl's father, Jason Platts, dismissed the apology as "garbage." "If he was sorry, he wouldn't have done it," he said. "Actions are what speak, not words."
Grossman noted that in the police interview report compiled after the girl's return, North Tonawanda Detective Karen Smith wrote that Serenity told her, "Nothing happened that made her scared, sad or mad."
Grossman said Grover didn't have his phone on during the ride. "(Serenity) was brought back home by the defendant before he knew there was an Amber Alert, before he knew police were looking for him," Grossman said.
But Wojtaszek noted that Grover sped away from the home after dropping the girl off and was chased by police to Niagara Falls Boulevard on the Amherst-Town of Tonawanda border. "He only surrendered when he was surrounded by police vehicles," she said.