Phillip Fleming Watts Sr. didn't know a brake light was out on his sky blue pickup truck. He didn't see the nearby police cruiser.
Police stopped Watts last June along Hwy. 160 and arrested the Fort Mill man for driving under suspension. Then authorities found a Ziploc bag containing multiple bags of marijuana under the seat where Watts' passenger sat. Neither man claimed the drugs so both were charged with two felony possession-related drug charges, police records show.
For those 2008 charges, Watts, 54, sat in jail 237 days. Last week, he walked away a free man after officials dropped the charges.
"I'm grateful to God to be out," Watts said. "I know that the charges were not true, and I'm grateful that the truth was told."
An admission by Watts' passenger paved the way for charges against Watts to be dismissed, Assistant Solicitor Jenny Desch said.
"The codefendant took full responsibility for what was found in the vehicle and refused to testify against Mr. Watts," Desch said. "We could not prove knowledge without the codefendant testifying."
Still, Watts' eight-month incarceration cost him: He lost his job with Food Lion.
"If you don't call in approximately two days, you lose your job," Watts said. "I had been with them almost nine years."
Back at his Smith Street home, his pickup truck sat atop three flat tires -- a direct result of the truck sitting unused for nearly a year, he said. Despite the damaged tires, continued unemployment and mounting bills, Watts remains calm while holding onto hope.
"I'm not worried about anything," he said. "I spent all that time there (jail), but it was not lost time. I have to start over, but that's all right."
Felony drug-related charges against Watts were dropped Feb. 5, according to the 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office Web site. He was released five days later, the site notes.
Late night drive
The charges dropped earlier this month stem from an incident that happened June 17, 2008.
Around 1:30 a.m., Watts was driving from Rock Hill to Fort Mill, where he was planning to drop off the passenger, Royal Porter, 24, of Rock Hill, at a relative's house.
They were traveling near the intersection of Hwy. 160 and Hwy. 21 Business near Walter Elijah Park when police pulled Watts over because of the tail light, according to reports from the York County Sheriff's Office and Watts' attorney, Twana N. Burris.
Watts was cited for driving under suspension, according to a traffic ticket, Burris said.
When authorities searched Watts' pickup, they found 81 grams of marijuana, according to the report, which also notes that police seized $1,078 from Porter. Both men were charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute near a park, police records show.
The drugs were found under Porter's seat, and Watts was none the wise, Burris said.
"He told me that he didn't know anything about the marijuana," Burris said.
As Burris and Desch prepped to try Watts' case, Porter contended that he would not testify against Watts. That move essentially stopped the case from going before a jury, Desch said.
"The codefendant did not indicate that Mr. Watts had knowledge that the drugs were in his truck," Burris said.
The case was slated for a jury trial later this month. If Watts was convicted, the combined charges against him could have carried up to a 30-year prison sentence, according to Desch and Burris.
Porter pleaded guilty to his both charges in December and was sentenced to five years in jail, according to the solicitor's office Web site.
Although the charges are vacated, the consequences ushered havoc for Watts. Without his truck, he mostly walks. And like many who are unemployed across York County and the Palmetto state, Watts goes regularly to the unemployment office as part of his plan to learn a new skill.
But memories of freedom and time lost after days behind bars at York' s detention center linger. Still, the prison stint taught Watts a lesson, he said. When he gets his driver's license situated and puts his truck back on the road, he will be more discriminating about his passengers.
"If someone can't stand a shakedown, he can't get in my truck," Watts said.
And he won't soon forget the 237 days he sat behind bars.
"This is time he will never get back," Burris said. "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."