ADRIAN - A Lenawee County father was taken into custody yesterday for a second time after authorities raised two charges of child abuse from misdemeanors to felonies.
Jason Betz, 31, is accused of forcing his two young daughters to walk nearly five miles to school along a busy highway. Originally charged with fourth-degree child abuse, which are misdemeanors, Mr. Betz was arraigned yesterday in Lenawee County District Court after prosecutors elevated the charges.
Mr. Betz, who was released from the Lenawee County jail after his bail was changed to personal recognizance, could face up to four years in prison.
Karen Tate, of the Lenawee County Prosecutor's Office, who is handling the case, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Michigan State Police arrested Mr. Betz after his two daughters, ages 7 and 10, were found walking along U.S. 223 early the morning of March 27.
Troopers said the girls told police they were walking the 4.8 miles to Blissfield Elementary because they missed the school bus. When they went to tell their father, the girls said he told them to walk. Mr. Betz told officers that the girls did not wake him up that morning.
Troopers chose to present the case to the Lenawee County Prosecutor's Office because they felt the road is exceptionally dangerous because it is so busy. The Michigan Department of Transportation said about 11,000 vehicles travel that area of U.S. 223 daily.
Defense attorney Anna Marie Anzalone, who was assigned the case yesterday, said she has not had much time to review the file. She said she has not had a chance to find out why prosecutors changed the charges.
“I do think it's odd that two weeks after he was charged with misdemeanors, they upped it to felonies,” she said.
At the time of the incident, Mr. Betz had a restricted driver's license because of an August drunken-driving offense, according to Michigan records. Until his license was reinstated April 30, Mr. Betz was allowed to drive only to and from his place of employment and to treatment, probation, and community service.
The drunken-driving arrest was the second against Mr. Betz in Michigan.
In addition to the child-abuse charges, Mr. Betz faces misdemeanor traffic charges, including driving with no insurance, violation of a restricted license, and having an improper license plate. Mr. Betz also has been suspended temporarily from his position with the Palmyra Volunteer Fire Department while the cases are resolved.
Mr. Betz will return to court May 22.