DOBSON — A Mount Airy man will spend time in prison after pleading guilty Monday to charges connected with a 2013 collision that killed an unborn child.
The accident occurred in the evening of July 23, 2013 on Zephyr Road in Dobson.
That night, victims Mariah and Steve Hughes, of Union Cross, were headed to Dairy Queen, Assistant District Attorney Mark Miller stated in court.
Mariah Hughes was eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child.
Dennis Dwain Angel Jr. was traveling in the opposite direction. He crossed the center line and struck the Hughes’ vehicle head-on.
Both Mariah and Steve Hughes were hospitalized and seriously injured, Miller said.
“Unfortunately due to injuries sustained in the accident, Mariah lost her child,” he said. “There’s still a cross on the road where the accident occurred.”
Angel, 29, of Turner Mountain Road, was charged with driving while impaired (DWI) , involuntary manslaughter of an unborn child and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon causing serious injury.
Angel pleaded guilty to those charges in Superior Court on Monday.
The DWI charge, along with another from a July 30, 2012, incident, were remanded to District Court for sentencing.
Angel also pleaded guilty Monday to several charges unrelated to the accident.
From an offense that occurred on Jan. 14, 2014, he pleaded guilty to possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver a schedule II controlled substance and sale or delivery of a schedule II controlled substance. From an Aug. 28 incident he pleaded guilty to altering or destruction of criminal evidence and maintaining a drug vehicle.
Through a plea agreement, numerous misdemeanor charges were dismissed: larceny, possession of stolen goods or property, failure to maintain lane control, two counts of simple possession of a schedule II controlled substance, a single count of simple possession of a schedule IV controlled substance, three counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting a public officer.
Relatively new crime
Various laws were enacted in 2011 in North Carolina detailing crimes regarding the unlawful homicide or assault of an unborn child.
They range in severity from murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, battery and assault.
“We spent quite some time with this case,” looking for a way to “meet the legal definition of malice” Miller told Presiding Judge A. Moses Massey during the hearing.
“We could not find it.”
Gesturing to the Hughes, who were accompanied by four additional family members in court, Miller said the victims had been consulted at every stage of the prosecution and had been informed of the limitations of structured sentencing.
“They are here in support of what we are doing,” he said.
Mariah Hughes wept frequently during the hearing.
Her mother, Deborah Cooke, spoke for the family.
“Sylvia was beautiful,” Cooke said of her first grandchild, describing how the baby had weighed more than four pounds, had fingernails and hair on her head.
“It’s been really rough these last few years,” she said. “I just hope maybe he can get his life together. Mariah and Steve are working still, after three and a half years, to get their life together. It’s not fun being part of sending someone to prison,” she continued. “I’m glad North Carolina appreciates the fact that now a person can be charged with the death of an unborn child.”
Angela Chatham, sister of Mariah Hughes, also spoke.
She recalled how she was the first to hold Sylvia, “memories that we have she doesn’t have,” Chatham said of her sister, who held the baby but was seriously injured.
“I would just hope that somehow down the road he’ll look back and see the pain he caused,” she said of Angel.
‘No excuse,’ attorney says
Scott Lowry, the Mount Airy attorney representing Angel, described his client as “a man of few words” when speaking before sentencing.
“There’s no excuse why this family had to endure this horrible tragedy,” Lowry said.
A veteran of the U.S. Army who served two combat tours in Iraq, Angel had been injured by an improvised explosive device and honorably discharged in 2008.
“He succumbed to drug use,” Lowry stated, apologizing and expressing remorse on behalf of his client.
“This is his last shot,” to get sober, Lowry said of his upcoming prison sentence.
“He owes that to his family, to this court, to this community and certainly to this family who has lost so much.”
Judge Massey accepted the plea and sentenced Angel to three consecutive sentences of 22 to 39 months, 16 to 29 months and 10 to 29 months, or a total of four to about seven years.
A fourth consecutive sentence of 22 to 39 months was suspended pending the successful completion of 36 months supervised probation to be served after his release from prison.
He was also ordered to pay $1,000 fine and serve 300 hours of community service within the first year of probation.
The judge thanked Angel for his military service.
“Most don’t appreciate the sacrifices made by those who serve our nation,” he said.
“On the other hand,” he continued, “I cannot begin to fathom the devastating impact of something like that you caused. I challenge you, sir, to live the rest of your life as a tribute to Sylvia Hughes. You are to do as much good as you can because we are deprived of the good she was going to do.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.