RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Erika Hughes was in the prime of her life, with a great job and a beautiful daughter, when her life was snatched away by a hit-and-run driver last year.
Now, as CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported exclusively, a controversial plea deal could send the driver away for little more than a year in prison.
On July 29, 2011, Hughes was walking on Mastic Road in Mastic Beach when she was struck. The impact threw her body against a curb.
The driver fled the scene without so much as slowing down.
Hughes left behind a barely 15-month-old daughter Gabriella, who was too young to understand that her mother has been killed.
More than a year later, Hughes’ aunt was shocked at the lenient sentence that is expected for the offending driver.
“It’s very unfair – a year and a quarter. Traffic violations get more than that,” said Tina Hughes. “It’s not right. You take someone’s life; don’t even turn yourself in.”
The distraught Hughes family walked out of the plea bargain hearing incredulous. The prosecutor had asked for the maximum punishment for the hit-and-run driver – Preston Mimms, 48, of Mastic.
Moments earlier, Mimms had admitted he had been behind the wheel when he struck and killed Hughes.
“I can’t begin to describe, first, the pain of the loss, and now, the anger I have right now,” said Erika Hughes’ uncle, Kevin Hughes.
Mimms, who was driving with a suspended license, was not caught for 10 months after the accident.
But the judge explained the law – there was no way to prove a cover-up, nor that Mimms was drunk, on drugs or speeding at the time of the hit-and-run.
Thus, Mimms was charged with a non-violent felony – leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it. Instead of two and a third to seven years in prison, the judge gave Mimms one to four.
“Stronger punishment,” said Anne Hughes, the victim’s grandmother. “People just can’t take lives away like that. It’s not fair.”
The Hughes family said baby Gabriella will never remember her mother, who doted and loved her with every inch of her soul. They said the case sends a disturbing message of justice – play cat and mouse with the legal system, and win if you hide.
“The judge has got to be better. The system’s got to get better,” said Ed Hughes, the victim’s grandfather. “We have to prevent in this in the future. No more. No more pain.”
Erika Hughes’ parents were so outraged that they refused to come to court Wednesday. They remained in their Shirley home, carrying for their motherless grandchild.
They hoped to summon the strength to attend the controversial sentencing next month.
Mimms’ legal aid attorney told CBS 2 his client was unaware at the time that he had hit someone on the dark road.
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