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Teenager struggles for missing memories

(ran SS ediiton of METRO & STATE)

Grant Olson was found unconscious May 7 along Belcher Road. He is recovering from his injuries but has no idea what happened that night.

There is a gap in 17-year-old Grant Olson's life. It is only a few hours long, but they are hours he, his parents and authorities want to reclaim.

Something terrible happened to Grant in those few hours _ maybe an accident, maybe something more insidious. Whatever it was, the teenager was left unconscious, bloody and near death in the middle of Belcher Road.

Grant has no memory of how he ended up there, and Pinellas County sheriff's officials say their investigation yielded no answers.

Four months later, the high school sophomore is recovering physically and emotionally from the life-threatening brain injury that kept him hospitalized for a month. He goes to rehabilitation several times a week and probably won't return to school with his friends.

The teenager's life will never be the same.

Doctors, relatives and sheriff's deputies have told him more than once: You are lucky to be alive.

"It scared me to death," Grant said.

On May 7, Grant and his friends played basketball after school at Woodgate Park. Two days earlier, the then-16-year-old had gotten into trouble for skipping class at Countryside High School.

Grant's father, Guy Olson, a troubleshooter at Time Warner, was called out of work to pick up his son. So, it came as no surprise to Grant that Dad had told him he couldn't go out.

The son the elder Olson has raised from age 2{ lately had been exasperating him with teenage antics: being late, skipping class, smoking on campus. Olson lectured and grounded his son constantly.

"He'd been in trouble a lot," Olson said. "It was just mischievous little things, but it got to the point where if he got caught chewing gum, they'd call me at work. I was getting fed up."

That balmy Friday night, Grant decided he was not staying home. He waited until his father and his father's fiancee were in another room, then slipped out of the house around 7:30 p.m.

"I wish I'd never snuck out of the house," Grant now says.

He strolled next door where two teenage guys he'd met the week before were hanging out. One of them, Grant said, had a low-rider pickup truck.

"They said they were going to go to the store and I said, "All right, I'll sit in the back,' " Grant said.

Grant's memory of May 7 ends there. It picks up again a week later when he awoke in the intensive care unit at Bayfront Medical Center.

The teens have told investigators that Grant did spend time in their truck. Then, they said, they dropped Grant off at his home, Deputy Jim Bordner said.

Their story was corroborated by one of the teen's mothers and another person who had followed behind the truck and seen Grant get out at home, Bordner said.

"They came to us," Bordner said. "They were not two people we had to track down."

Bordner said Grant's injuries showed no sign that a crime had been committed. For now, the Sheriff's Office has ruled out aggravated battery and attempted murder, Bordner said.

"We know he was either pushed, thrown or jumped from a moving vehicle," Bordner said. "We assume it was a truck."

Investigators have determined the vehicle in which he was riding was traveling south on Belcher Road in the median lane going about 45 mph, Bordner said. Grant slid down the road about 30 feet, hit the center median and rolled onto his side, Bordner said.

"Everything we have points towards some type of accidental injury," Bordner said. "He has no injuries except the injuries from him hitting the ground."

Just after 10 p.m. that Friday, Guy Olson and his fiancee, Carla Ruscher, watched through a window as a medical helicopter flew overhead and landed a block away on Belcher Road.

"We never thought it was Grant," Ruscher said.

A few minutes earlier, Dunedin resident Scott MacNeill and two friends had spotted Grant on the pavement on Belcher Road, shirtless, bleeding and unconscious.

"We didn't know what it was," MacNeill said. "My first words were, "There's someone dead in the middle of the road.' "

Grant had no identification on him when he was found. For two days the Sheriff's Office struggled to identify the unconscious teenager at Bayfront Medical Center. Bordner fielded phone calls from as far as Louisiana and Oklahoma City.

In Dunedin, the alarms had not yet gone off for Grant's father. It was not uncommon for his son to disappear to his mother's house, a subdivision away, for the weekend. Also, Olson said, Grant had been bugging him for permission to move out with some friends who had a new place. Olson wouldn't let him, and he suspected Grant might be spending the weekend with them.

Olson said he was troubled by news reports that portrayed him as a father who didn't care about what his son did. That simply isn't true, he said. "We got caught in a pattern where it was like, "He's off on one of his weekends,' " Olson said. "I thought it was a teenager and his stunts."

Two days later, Grant regained consciousness long enough to provide Bordner with information that led the deputy to Guy Olson at work. It was a phone call that is any parent's nightmares.

"My worst fears came to life, "He finally got into something . . .' " Olson said.

Olson and his fiancee were not prepared for the sight of Grant's badly injured body. She burst into tears when she saw the bandages that covered his face, arms, back and hands, along with the numerous scrapes and bruises.

"It was just, "Thank God he's alive,' " Olson said. "I almost lost him."

Grant's family kept an around-the-clock vigil for a week until he regained consciousness.

"I didn't know how bad it was," Grant said. "I didn't realize I was close to death. I was completely lost. I was like, "Why am I here?' "

It took him two weeks to get out of bed. Even then, the injuries were far worse than those that could be seen. He suffered multiple skull fractures and a severe brain trauma. His vision was blurred for some time but has since been restored. His short-term memory was damaged, something he is improving with rehabilitation at Bayfront.

Grant is back home with his father. He chatters a mile a minute like any 17-year-old and looks forward to getting his driver's license. But he says he is not the same young man who sneaked out of the house May 7.

He is doing his homework and chores and has found it's not so bad hanging out with his parents. Without a hint of embarrassment, he told a reporter, "I love my parents very much."

"I always hear people, my dad or my mom say this: "Life is short. Do good,' " Grant said. "I take it more seriously. Before this happened I really didn't care about stuff. I was like, "Whatever.' It has changed me big time. It made me a lot better person."

Bordner said Grant has worked hard to piece together what happened to him that night. Bordner has investigated leads and rumors that led nowhere.

"I'd love nothing more than to find the truth in this," Bordner said.

Olson gets angry when he thinks about his son lying helpless in the road. The family is deeply grateful to MacNeill and his friends for stopping to help Grant when they did. They still want answers, though.

If Grant fell accidentally, they wonder, why didn't the driver stop or call for an ambulance?

Someone, Olson said, "left him to die on the street. There's no excuse."

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May 7

1. After 7:30 p.m. - Grant Olson, then 16, last remembers sneaking out of his house at 2768 Park Drive and going next door where he climbs into the back of an acquaintance's truck to go to a store. He does not remember the ride or anything that follows.

2. 9:45 p.m. - Grant Olson is spotted by a passer-by laying in a median in front of 2833 Belcher Road. He is unconcious, bloody and has life-threatening injuries.