Most people in the Richmond suburb of Mechanicsville, particularly the churchgoers, know or know of Doug Grote.
Grote is the recreational minister of Cool Spring Baptist Church, where he administers a popular basketball league involving hundreds of children. During timeouts, Grote reads a Bible verse to his players. Around town, he often sports a bright orange hat that says "University of Kristen" to show affection for his daughter.
But now, the small town of Mechanicsville, population 30,000, knows the popular pastor for something else: leaving 3-year-old Kristen locked inside his sport-utility vehicle, where she died of heatstroke while he worked at the church last week.
Yesterday, Hanover County Commonwealth's Attorney Kirby H. Porter, announced that an investigative grand jury will be empaneled to determine whether Grote, 32, was criminally negligent.
"As a father of four small children, I can only begin to imagine the pain and sense of loss [the Grote family] must be going through," Porter said in a statement. "This process is designed to and will achieve an objective determination of the facts and an appropriate application of the law to those facts."
Grote family members could not be reached yesterday.
Lt. Doug Goodman, a spokesman for the Hanover County sheriff, said Grote arrived at the church Aug. 3 and left his daughter in her car seat in the rear of his Dodge Durango for a "significant amount" of the day. Paramedics arrived about 4:30 p.m., Goodman said, and found church officials administering CPR, but the child was "not responsive, not breathing." The medical examiner ruled her death an accident, Goodman said.
In his statement yesterday, Porter noted that his office and the county's child protective services agency were not notified of the child's death until after the local media reported it. Sheriff V. Stuart Cook responded to Porter's comments in a statement, saying that he found such criticism "disturbing" and that his deputies followed proper procedure.
Cook said his office finished its investigation Friday and recommended that the case be presented to a regular grand jury. He said Porter then advised the sheriff's office to obtain arrest warrants after Kristen's funeral this week. But Porter changed his mind and chose to empanel an investigative grand jury, a decision that surprised the sheriff's office, which learned of the move "moments after [Porter's] press conference" yesterday.
Many people in Mechanicsville sympathize with Grote, said Tommy Thompson, owner of the Mechanicsville Drug Store and known as the unofficial mayor. "It's a terrible mistake that anybody could have made. . . . There's nothing else that anybody could do to make him suffer any worse."
Thompson said so many people attended the memorial service for Kristen at Cool Spring Baptist Church on Saturday that members of other churches came by to help serve as ushers and park cars.
Two years ago in Prince William County, Frances Kelly, 21 months, died after being left strapped to a car seat in a van for seven hours on a hot day. Kevin C. Kelly, the girl's father, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.