By MELINDA WILLIAMS
“You’ve been a bad driver, just as you were that day. There may have been fines before, but this time there was a death,” a Pulaski County judge told a county man Thursday.
Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long Jr. was talking to 25-year-old Dustin Keith Hodge before sentencing him to serve five years of a 10-year prison sentence for the Sept. 15, 2012 involuntary manslaughter of Misty Dawn Davis 26, of Hillsville.
Davis’ family was present for the sentencing hearing and several broke down in tears as Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Daniel Johnson described how a car being driven by Hodge traveled 424 feet out of control on Route 100 near New River Valley Airport.
Hodge admitted he was speeding, as much as 70 miles per hour, the day he lost control of his used, but newly-purchased, high performance 1995 Acura. However, he denied he was racing with another vehicle at the time.
On cross-examination by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Skip Schwab, Hodge acknowledged having been convicted since the wreck of driving 20 miles over the speed limit within town limits. He also was convicted in 2010 of driving in excess of 80 miles per hour.
“Maybe a death wasn’t intended, but what you were doing was,” Judge Long told Hodge. He said he has no doubt Hodge is remorseful, but the fact Hodge was speeding while having knowledge that neither of the car’s passengers were wearing seatbelts set the scene for what happened.
Long pointed out that Hodge, as the driver of the vehicle, is the equivalent of being the captain of a ship. As such, Hodge was responsible for the safety of the passengers.
The judge called the case “very difficult and troubling” because the wreck caused the death of “a (twin) sister, daughter and mother.”
The judge noted the 10-year sentence he imposed was above the state-recommended sentencing guideline because of Hodge’s driving history and the fact a death resulted from Hodge’s actions.
According to testimony, Davis and Hodge’s back seat passenger, Justin Presgraves, 23, of Dublin, were ejected during the wreck. Johnson said Davis’ body came to rest 42 feet south of the vehicle’s final resting place, while Presgraves was 70 feet north of it.
Presgraves, whom Hodge’s referred to as being like a brother, was injured, but recovered.
Hodge lived most of his life in Dublin and served three years in the military after graduating from Pulaski County High School. He said he has a 13-month-old child, whose mother is the victim’s twin sister, Christy.
According to Hodge, he dated Christy several years, but they broke up and he had been dating Misty Davis for several months when the wreck occurred.
Hodge told the court that while he smoked marijuana and used alcohol and pills in the past, he was not under the influence of anything that day. He indicated he purchased the Acura from a friend about three to four days before the fatal wreck, using money he received from an insurance claim involving another wreck.
Asked by defense attorney Bev Davis whether he was racing another car before the fatal wreck, Hodge said he wasn’t. He said he and another driver were playing around was “revving” their engines, but they weren’t driving at a high rate of speed. Besides, he claimed, the other vehicle turned onto another road before the wreck occurred.
Hodge attributed the wreck to the car hitting “a hard dip” in the road, causing it to go sideways and out of control. He called that day “the worst day of my life. I have it with me every day of my life. I go to bed with it and wake up with it.”
He said Davis’ parents told him to stay away from their family and he respects that. When he tried to apologize to her family in the courtroom for taking Misty away from them, Davis’ mother started to respond.
“You shouldn’t have ever taken her away from me to start with …,” she said before being stopped by the judge. Long told her he understood it was hard for her to remain silent, but he could not allow her to speak back to the defendant.
Hodge said that while he knows there is nothing he can do to bring Misty back, he would take her place any day. He admitted he was driving too fast and the wreck was his fault.
Hodge’s mother, Betsy McGlothlin, also broke down in tears during the hearing. Testifying on behalf of her son, she acknowledged the events of that day will forever be a part of everyone’s life in both families. She said her son is not the same person he used to be and added that he understands his actions caused a death and he lives with it daily.
“Unfortunately, these events opened his eyes that it’s time to grow up; he’s not 16 anymore,” said McGlothlin. Turning to the victim’s family, she said, “My heart goes out to you as a family. I would do anything I could to change this if I could. I’m deeply, deeply sorry.”
Bev Davis told the judge that Hodge was expecting to be incarcerated as punishment. However, he asked the judge to be lenient to show Hodge he isn’t a bad person who intended to hurt friends.
“There’s an old saying that speed kills,” Schwab said. “This is a perfect example of that.” Pointing out that Hodge was convicted of speeding after the deadly wreck, he questioned whether Hodge “learned his lesson.”
“I don’t know how fast he was going,” Schwab added, but it was fast enough to give the car enough momentum to travel the full length of a football field, including both end zones, plus 10 yards. “It was powered entirely by momentum.”
Schwab pointed out this is a case that can’t be remedied by restitution. “Incarceration is appropriate because it can’t be fixed – someone is dead,” he concluded.
Upon release from prison, Hodge will be placed on five years of supervised probation. Judge Long denied a request that Hodge be allowed to report to the jail at a later date.
Involuntary manslaughter is a Class 5 felony carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Hodge pleaded no contest to the charge, meaning he acknowledges evidence would be sufficient for a finding of guilt, but he is not admitting being guilty of the charge.