FALL RIVER — A judge Wednesday sentenced the hit-and-run driver who struck and killed Seekonk Assistant Town Clerk Karen McHugh to a total of three years in jail before her widow stormed out of the courtroom in anger.
Judge Gregg Pasquale sentenced Jacob Lacourse, 24, of Daily Street in Attleboro, to service 2 1/2 years in jail for leaving the scene of an accident with death resulting.
Lacourse was also sentenced to a consecutive term of six months of a two-year jail term for driving to endanger. The balance was suspended for three years with probation. He was also fined $1,200.
Immediately after the sentence was announced in Fall River Superior Court, McHugh’s wife, Sandra Lima, stormed out of the courtroom and told reporters Lacourse deserved to be sent to a state prison for the 10-year maximum.
“This woman cared about people. This woman cared about animals, so much. This was a loving, caring woman and she deserved better than what she got in the courtroom — Much better,” Lima told reporters outside the courthouse while displaying a photograph of McHugh.
Lacourse has already served nine months of the sentence awaiting trial. Unlike a state prison sentence, his commitment to a county jail will allow him to be eligible for early release before he completes three years.
While on probation, Lacourse must avoid drugs and alcohol and submit to random testing by the probation department. Any violation of those terms could land him in jail again.
Lacourse pleaded guilty March 30 and admitted to driving off after hitting McHugh in front of her Arcade Avenue home in Seekonk just before 10 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2015.
McHugh was walking home on the darkened road after taking care of several of her pet cats in her garage on a cold night. The sidewalks were covered with snow from a recent blizzard.
Lacourse also admitted to returning and driving by the scene while emergency personnel were present. Lacourse then went to the home of a woman he had met through an online dating service and smoking marijuana.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Cahillane disputed the defense contention that he panicked and left the scene out of concern for his girlfriend and two young children. He said Lacourse took parts from his car and hid the vehicle so he could not be linked to the crime.
“He knew exactly what he was doing and what he had done,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Cahillane told the judge before Lacourse was sentenced.
The defendant’s actions were outrageous,” Cahillane said.
Cahillane had recommended a 6 ½ – to 10-year state prison sentence, followed by five years’ probation.
Lacourse’s lawyer, Nicolas Gordon of Mansfield, said his client was concerned about the well-being of his family. The accident occurred while he was free on bail, wrongfully accused of a “serious crime.”
Lacourse was awaiting trial for rape at the time of the crash and was ultimately found innocent last year.
Leaving the scene “was undoubtedly the worst decision he made in his whole life,” Gordon said.
The defense lawyer had recommended a two-year jail sentence.
Before issuing his sentence, Pasquale said he read all the documents related to the case and the lawyers’ sentencing memoranda, as well as the medical and autopsy reports.
He said he believed McHugh likely would not have survived, even if Lacourse had stopped and called 911.
McHugh was rushed to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, where she was pronounced dead.
District Attorney Thomas Quinn lambasted the judge’s sentence, saying McHugh was mortally injured and left to die.
“I am very disappointed in the sentence imposed by the court,” Quinn said. “The defendant was a pre-trial release with GPS monitoring for a rape charge at the time of this incident. Not only did he strike and kill the victim, but he fled the scene and left her to die in the street.
“He also destroyed evidence and never came forward despite public pleas for information from police and family members. The defendant deserved a substantial state prison sentence.”
The judge praised the extensive police investigation that went into the case. He singled out Seekonk Police Chief Craig Mace, who was in the courtroom, the detective unit and state police who worked on the case.
From pieces of the car left at the scene, police determined what kind of car was involved, the judge said. He added that it was not until the defendant’s father, Joseph Lacourse, went to police with the suspicion of his son’s involvement that Jacob Lacourse was charged last July.