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PULASKI — A Pulaski Circuit Court judge told a 25-year-old Max Meadows man that he was a “bad driver, a speeding driver,” when pronouncing his sentence Thursday.
Dustin Keith Hodge was the driver in a Sept. 15, 2012, wreck that killed a Hillsville woman. He had pleaded no contest in August to an involuntary manslaughter charge after the crash on Virginia 100 in Pulaski County that killed Misty Dawn Davis.
Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office deputies that responded to the wreck scene found that a 1995 Acura Integra driven by Hodges left the road while traveling north.
The vehicle went into the median and rolled several times, ending up in the southbound lanes of 100.
The crash resulted in Davis being ejected from the front passenger seat. Pulaski County authorities said Davis died at the scene.
A second passenger, Justin Presgraves of Dublin, was also thrown from the vehicle but survived his injuries.
Much of the evidence presented to the court Thursday by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Curtis Schwab came from testimony by Sgt. Daniel Johnson, a member of the Pulaski Sheriff’s Office accident reconstruction team.
Johnson responded to the scene of the incident between Dublin and the Giles County line on Virginia 100, near the New River Valley Airport, and took several measurements of the accident field and many photographs.
The deputy, in response to questions, explained that the Acura had gone off the right side of the northbound lanes into gravel and overcorrected.
The vehicle went out of control and slid down the road sideways until it crossed the northbound lanes and went into the median, Johnson testified. There the Acura collided with a concrete culvert on the passenger’s side, which caused the vehicle to go airborne for about 50 feet.
Altogether, from where Hodge went off the side of the road to where the vehicle came to a stop measured about 430 feet, the deputy testified. Davis, not wearing a seatbelt, got thrown 42 feet from the vehicle.
Trying to mitigate the possible prison sentence of up to 10 years for involuntary manslaughter, defense attorney Richard Davis called Hodge to the witness stand.
Hodge explained that he had fallen in love with Misty Davis after being friends for a while. He had first dated her twin sister.
Though Hodge had admitted to previously smoking marijuana, taking pills and drinking in the past, he testified that none of that had entered into the wreck on Sept. 15, 2012, in response to questions from the defense attorney.
Instead, Hodge told the court he had bought the Acura only three or four days before the accident.
“It was an insurance claim where I was in a car wreck,” he testified. “It was one of my best friends’ cars — he was selling it and I had the money to buy it.”
At the time of the accident, Hodge explained the Acura had a headlight out and he had bought a replacement.
He and his two passengers were heading to his stepfather’s house to put the headlight in, when they encountered another vehicle.
Hodge and the other driver weren’t really racing, but did rev their engines at each other and so forth. “Just playing back and forth,” as he described it.
Going along, Hodge went into a curve and felt the car dip and then it started going sideways.
After killing his girlfriend and almost killing Presgraves, Hodge told the court he doesn’t sleep and can’t eat.
“The remorse you’re expressing here, have you felt that the entire time?” asked Davis, the defense attorney.
Yes, Hodge answered.
Do you take responsibility for Misty Davis’ death? the defense attorney asked.
“Yes, sir,” Hodge said. “I was behind the wheel.”
The Acura had been modified to be a high-performance vehicle and that’s why you wanted it? Schwab asked Hodge.
Hodge confirmed that he had been convicted of a reckless driving charge of going more than 80 mph in 2010 and another charge of speeding 20 mph over the limit from February 2013 — months after the wreck that killed Davis, in response to questions from the prosecutor.
And Hodge had been charged four times with failure to wear his seatbelt, with one incident falling just two days before the fatal accident. Hodge confirmed that’s why he wore his seatbelt that day.
Betsy McGlothlin testified on behalf of her son.
“He’s not the same person — it’s changed him,” she said about Hodge. “It wasn’t that he survived and life goes on. He lives with this everyday.”
Hodge understands that his actions caused Davis’ death, she said. “I believe it showed him that life is short and sometimes there’s no second chance…”
It opened Hodge’s eyes to the idea that he’s not 16 years old anymore and it’s time to grow up.
Davis, the defense attorney, asked Judge Marcus Long for leniency and to set the punishment at the low end of the state sentencing guidelines.
The guidelines give room for a lenient sentence when there is no intent for “the worst thing” to take place, the defense attorney said in his closing arguments. Hodge “is not a person who intends bad things to happen to people who are close to him.”
“There’s an old saying — ‘speed kills’ — and this is a perfect example,” Schwab said in his closing.
Pointing to Hodge’s repeated offenses and the fact that the crash field ranged over a distance longer than football field, the prosecutor noted the Max Meadows man was going way too fast with two passengers without their seat belts on.
“This is a very difficult case, a troubling case, because driving improperly, in a criminal manner, caused the death of a sister, a daughter, a mother,” Long said, after taking a short recess to consider the case.
Though authorities will never know the exact speed — Hodge had described it as 70 mph before the crash — Long noted it’s clear that the man had been going excessively fast.
“You’ve been a bad driver, a speeding driver.”
But, in this case, the speed had caused a death. Long compared a driver to a captain of a ship — both are responsible for what happens to the occupants in their respective vehicles.
Noting it was on the high side of sentencing guidelines, Long gave Hodge 10 years in the Virginia Department of Corrections, with five to serve and the remaining five suspended with five years of supervised probation.
Outside the courtroom, Sheryl Bailey, mother to Misty Davis, said that Hodge’s prison term seems short compared to the fact that Davis’ children, Miguel and Destiny, will have to go without their mother for the rest of their lives.