Sentencing for fatal hit-run draws outrage

Dennis Hughes, the father of Erika Hughes, talks

Dennis Hughes, the father of Erika Hughes, talks to media following the the sentencing of Preston Mimms. (Jan. 4, 2013). (Credit: John Roca)

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A still-grieving father told a Suffolk County Court judge Friday that the sentence he intended to impose on the unlicensed driver who ran over the man's daughter and left her body in the street would lead to more needless deaths.

"He's going to kill someone else," Dennis Hughes said. "It's a travesty, your honor."

Despite the emotional appeal, Judge James Hudson sentenced Preston Mimms, 48, of Mastic, to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison for leaving the scene of a fatal accident -- less than the maximum of 2 1/3 to 7 years that both prosecutors and the victim's family and friends wanted.

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, disappointed by the leniency granted Mimms, afterward called for tougher penalties for drivers in fatal hit-and-run cases.

Hudson told Hughes in court that he believes the maximum punishment was appropriate only for defendants who are convicted after a trial, having never taken responsibility for their actions, and that there was no guarantee of a conviction in this case.

The judge also said leaving the scene of a fatal accident is not the same as manslaughter.

"His actions are deemed not as a murderer, but as a coward," he said.

Mimms pleaded guilty last month, admitting that he'd killed Erika Hughes, 24, of Shirley, as she walked along Mastic Road in Mastic Beach late at night on July 29, 2011. He has been in jail since his arrest in April.

She was the mother of a girl, 15 months old at the time. Hughes' mother held the girl in court Friday as she and several dozen people listened to Dennis Hughes tell Hudson how disappointed he was.

Hughes said Mimms deserved "nothing but the max. How could anyone in their right mind not want to put him away forever? . . . Your honor, you can't let him off easy."

Both Spota and county Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who attended the sentencing, agreed.

Spota said there has been an increase in hit-and-run deaths, as drunken drivers realize that penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal accident are less severe than for manslaughter or aggravated vehicular homicide.

"It's always to their benefit" to leave the scene, Spota said, calling for the State Legislature to increase the penalty for hit-and-run fatalities.

Browning said she would lobby for tougher penalties, too. "He really should have paid a higher price for this," she said of Mimms.

Facing Mimms in the courtroom, Hughes said his daughter "made a difference. She made the world a beautiful place. You don't. You make it a bad place."

Erika Hughes was raising her daughter alone while working at a car dealership. Friends said she was killed while walking home after a rare night out.

Mimms, whose license has been suspended four times and was invalid when he hit Hughes, said in court Friday, "I take responsibility, and I do apologize."

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Opisso said Mimms' criminal record, which includes convictions for robbery, assault and grand larceny, shows his disregard for society's rules.

Protesters objected to the sentence in front of the courthouse. "One and a third to four for a murderer!" one of them, Karen Walsh, hollered. "The law must change!"

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