Deaton sentenced to 1,095 days following 2016 hit-and-run

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

The Superior Courtroom was full Thursday morning for the sentencing of Derek Deaton, 24, Salem.

Just after 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2016, Chris Bottorff called 9-1-1 to report a man was laying in the snowy roadway on State Road 56 near Quaker Lane. Officers from city, county and state law enforcement rushed to the scene and found Mitchell Lovins, 70, dead in the snow. He had been on foot, walking in the snowstorm that night after his own vehicle slid off the road when Deaton struck him with his red, 1995 Chevrolet pick-up. An autopsy was performed on Lovins and indicated his cause of death was multiple areas of blunt force trauma.

Deaton and a friend, Olivia Kendall, who had both been drinking according to the probable cause affidavit, were driving to the Scottsburg Waffle House from Slimo’s Saloon when their vehicle struck Lovins. Testimony given at the hearing indicated that Kendall had been dozing, but woke up on impact and asked what they had hit and Deaton told her he’d struck a deer. Instead of going to the Waffle House, Deaton drove to the home he shared with his parents in Canton.

Witness testimony at the sentencing hearing indicated Kendall later began hearing news of a man found dead on State Road 56 around the time she and Deaton had been in the area. She went out to look at Deaton’s car and noticed the damage to the windshield and driver’s side headlight, damage later called “extensive” in ISP Detective Scott Stewart’s report. She pieced the events together and reported the incident to the state police.
The next day, Washington County Chief Deputy Brent Miller and Detective Dave Mitchell and Stewart went to Deaton’s address. Deaton’s father, John Deaton gave permission for them to examine the pick-up truck in the garage and told them Derek Deaton had told him the truck had been wrecked after he hit a deer. The truck was transported to the Sellersburg ISP post by wrecker.

Miller, and Mitchell interviewed Derek Deaton at the Sheriff’s Department and he admitted he and Kendall were at Slimo’s before leaving and that he knew he had hit a human at the scene and left without telling authorities.

Deaton pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a Level 5 felony, on July 27, 2017.

'You took his last breath'
Arvilla Fee, Lovins’ sister-in-law, spoke first, bringing with her a framed photo of Lovins and other loose photographs. These were given to Deaton and his attorney to look through and, as he saw them, Deaton became emotional.

Fee called Lovins’ the family’s “go-to man,” listing the things, large and small, that Lovins spent his life doing to help his family and friends.

“He was plain honest and good,” she said. “He may not have always remembered flowers or birthdays, but … he was the Papaw who hung the moon for the grandchildren who looked up at him with stars in their eyes.”

She called Jan. 10, 2016, a date that will forever haunt them.

“[That he knowingly hit a man and didn’t stop to help him] doesn’t just speak to a dumb, alcohol-induced decision,” she told Deaton. “It speaks to the very core of your being … The night you left Mitchell Lovins bleeding in the road like an animal, you branded yourself a selfish coward … Every time we came to court, we had to look at you and be reminded of what you did.”

She recounted the days of Lovins’ viewing and funeral.

“More than 700 people came through to hug Carla [Lovins’ wife] at the viewing,” she said.

She said the law didn’t allow him to spend enough time in jail to make up for the loss in the family’s lives, but she hopes it’s enough for the “reformation of your character … When you took Mitch’s life, you took a big part of our lives.”

Michael Campbell, Lovins’ son-in-law also spoke, calling the night of his father-in-law’s death the worst day of his life that he could recall.

“I wish I could describe the pain, but there are no words,” he said. “The image of you leaving my dad on a freezing night will forever be embedded in my mind.”

He said he’s found himself crying himself to sleep, waking up crying and bursting into tears at work and at home throughout the day. He said Lovins has great-grandchildren he’ll never get to meet and that he has grandchildren who miss him very much.

“How do you explain to a 15-year-old why someone who did drugs is in jail, but the man who killed his Pap is out there living life?” Campbell asked. “We’ve waited two years, one month and two days to hear from your mouth that you’re sorry … My family has been through hell … To me, you are nothing but a coward. I hope with every breath you take, you think of my dad, because you took his last breath.”

Clarissa Akers is Lovins’ step-daughter.

“To my children, he was known as Papa,” she said, “and to me, he’s more of a father than my biological one ever was … Mitch was always available when he was needed … [and] now he is no more.”

She said the most was taken from her mother, Carla.

“Her lover, partner and the half that made her whole is forever gone,” she said. “The look on her face when I went over there will forever be in my mind.
“All we have to hold onto are memories we have and stories we share,” Akers said.

'I’ve been lost ever since that dreadful night'
Throughout the testimonies, Deaton kept his head bowed. He began to cry when Lovins’ son, Mitchell Brian Lovins took the stand. Brian Lovins is an active member of the US military and Deaton also served in the US Army. Brian Lovins’ began his statement with the Soldier’s Creed, listing off the core values of the American soldier.

“You didn’t exhibit any of these that night,” Brian Lovins said. “These are the values all soldiers, past and present, live by. The night you hit my father and left him to die, you exhibited none of these values, even after your passenger turned you in.”

Brian Lovins said he has been in service to the United States for the past 29 years and had been deployed three times in combat.

“If I hadn’t lived by these values, I would have lost a lot of soldiers who relied on me,” he said. “… You, Derek, are not and never were a soldier.”

Brian Lovins said when he was in a war zone overseas, he was responsible for having the answers for both his subordinates and his superiors.

“In my personal life, I didn’t always have the answers, but when I had questions, I knew I could go to my dad,” he said. “I’ve been lost ever since that dreadful night … My mother passed away 20 years ago. All I and my sisters had was my dad. If you had rendered first aide, which you were taught to do in the Army, I might have a different opinion of you.”

Brian Lovins said he did not feel sorry for Deaton and was “grateful to have never had a soldier like you in one of my units.

“You will be judged when it’s time to stand before the gates of God.”

Mitchell Lovins’ wife, Carla, called her late husband a “gifted man” who had a knack for construction and fixing things. Above all that, though, he was “my husband, a son, brother, father, step-father and the position I think he loved most was that of grandfather.

“He was my true partner in life, a papa who never missed a ball game, grandparents day or church event. He was a son to a mother ill with Alzheimer’s … He did not deserve to be left on the side of the road like roadkill. … I know without any shadow of a doubt, if the roles had been reversed, he would have taken care of you … How do you leave a man to die in the snow alone?”

She said she and her family pray they will be able to forgive Deaton one day and hope he learns to take of his fellow human beings.
“You will be able to go back to your family and life again,” she told Deaton. “We will never be able to do this in this lifetime with Mitch.”

'He's a good kid'
Speaking on Deaton’s behalf were his supervisor, Wade Myers, his childhood minister Rodney Sweeney and his father, John Deaton.

Myers told the court Deaton had an excellent work ethic with a great attitude.

“Derek is one of those people who you give a task and he does it,” Myers said. “He’s a good person. He obviously made a mistake and he feels bad about that and he’s doing what he can to make it right.”

Sweeney has known Deaton since he was born and said the two were close before he left to join the Army.

“I haven’t sat down and talked with him about the case … but I believe there is some remorse,” said Sweeney. “I believe if he’d been able to do it again, he’d do things differently.”

He said he was “shocked and flattened” when he heard the man who’d hit Lovins was Deaton.

“It’s not his character, I thought at the time,” said Sweeney.

The minister said he remembers Deaton to be a “great kid” who participated in the prayer around the flagpole at school and was one Sweeney hoped would go into the ministry at some point. Based on conversations with Deaton’s parents, he said he believes Deaton will follow whatever rules or sentence is given to him.

John Deaton said his son has been “tore up” over what’s happened, saying Derek Deaton has bad headaches, throws up and sometimes refuses to eat.

“He doesn’t have the same friends as he did before the accident,” said John Deaton. “He doesn’t hang out with people who go to bars. I believe all this has had a positive effect on him.”

He said he is worried about what will happen if his son spends time in jail.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s not associated with bad people and I’m worried if he does go to jail, he’ll be exposed to that. I always drilled into his head that drugs and stuff like that can mess your life up forever.”

After he returned from the Army, John Deaton said his son was still a good kid. He would drink the occasional beer, but wasn’t going to the bar every night, but said Derek Deaton was dating a bartender.

“Since he got out of jail, he hasn’t had a beer or been around beer,” he said.

John Deaton said not only does he not hold a grudge against the woman who turned Derek Deaton in, he’s grateful she did so.

'I'm so sorry'
Derek Deaton himself was given the opportunity to speak. He stood before the judge and within a few words, his voice was shaking with emotion.

“I’m reminded every day of my stupidity,” he said. “I wish there was some way I could change what happened, but I can’t. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for losing my core values.”

He was unable to continue and burst into tears, returning to his seat, hand covering his face.

Attorney arguments
Deputy Prosecutor Mark Wynn said in his arguments he didn’t “have words to describe the loss and pain felt by the Lovins family. I can’t improve on what you’ve heard by family members who spoke today.”

He said, when he thinks about the case, he comes back to one thing — how the Lovins spent the day and a half between finding out Mitchell was dead vs. how Deaton spent that day and a half, "… what he failed to do, while this family processed what occurred and planned a funeral.”

He said, while there were mitigating factors in this case, they did not outweigh the crime

“The court should consider the harm, injury and loss that occurred here and consider that an aggravating factor,” said Wynn.

He said incarceration would not create undue hardship for Deaton. He said Deaton worked an entry-level job of the sort that he could get again after release from prison. He had no history of drug abuse or dependents looking to him for income or support.

“No, he has no significant criminal history, but that does not rise to mitigate this sentence,” said Wynn. “… I understand the defendant’s father’s testimony and that there are people who love the defendant, but the notion they are defending this behavior by him hanging out with ‘the wrong people’ — one of those people is the one who reported it and told the police what he’d done.”

Deaton’s attorney, Bart Betteau, said his argument for probation was not going to be one that would sound nice for the family of Mitchell Lovins, but one that did follow the law.

“The legal arguments I’m making have to be made,” he said. “My heart broke this morning when I heard this testimony, just like everyone else.”

He said the goal of the criminal justice system is not punitive but corrective.

“There’s hurt and anger here, but those things aren’t appropriate for court,” he said.

“What happened was ugly and despicable and will impact them for the rest of their lives, but courts need to find for reformation and recidivism, not in hurt or anger. The law says the court has to do what’s right for his reformation and to prevent him doing it again.”

He argued Deaton was very unlikely to re-offend, citing an Indiana Criminal Risk Assessment report, ranking Deaton’s chances for re-offending at a 2 out of 49. A low ranking is considered to be any number between 0 and 14.

“He had a two,” said Betteau. “You can’t get any lower than that.”

Betteau said the court must consider Deaton’s lack of criminal history in deciding a sentence.

“He’s never been in trouble before,” he said. “No one tried to present evidence that this boy — yes, he’s a man, but he’s a boy to me — wouldn’t respond to something besides incarceration. Everything he’d done up until that night has been what he should do.”

He argued that considering the loss of the family as an aggravating factor doesn’t follow the law.

“This man was the linchpin of your family,” said Betteau. “We heard that loud and clear, but his loss is part of the crime already. That can’t be an aggravating factor. You can’t weigh one life over another.”

He argued probation for Deaton, saying he understood this might be difficult for people in this case, but it was what the law indicates and if something more severe had to be imposed, that home detention would be appropriate.

Wynn fired back saying Betteau didn’t want to bring up the last paragraph of the report, which recommended incarceration as a sentence.

“Use these tools, he said. There’s science behind these tools. The Indiana Supreme Court is behind it … until it gets to the recommendation of incarceration.”

Following the arguments by the attorneys, Newkirk left to consider and research and returned with his decision.

A complicated sentence
“The law outlines things I need to consider,” said Judge Frank Newkirk. “I agree with some things Mr. Betteau said and some things I don’t.”

He said he didn’t agree that it would be an undue hardship on Deaton to be incarcerated and that there was always a risk someone could be hurt or sustain property damage in an accident, but that what had been said that morning indicated what Deaton did that night was something he ordinarily would do.

He sentenced Deaton to serve three years, but the sentence would be broken into phases. He will initially spend 242 days in jail, including the 179 actual days he has already served and the 60 good-behavior credit days he’s earned. He returned to jail for three days and was released Saturday. He will now serve 547 days (410 actual days taking into account good-time credit) of his sentence on the Hoosier Hills PACT Community Corrections Day Reporting Program, along with home detention and alcohol monitoring. He’ll also pay for all fees associated with these programs, which total $8,590 [$185 in court costs, $100 assessment fee for day reporting, $1 per day for day reporting, $100 home detention fee, $14 per-day home detention fee]. Any violation of the terms of these programs could result in him spending the rest of this time in prison.

Upon completion of the day reporting and home detention portions of his sentence, he will return for 306 days (230 actual days) of the sentence. However, Deaton and his attorney may petition the court prior to the second period of incarceration and request a modification, which could result in fewer days in jail. Deaton has 30 days to appeal the sentencing.

“The sentence is stricter than what the state and probation asked for, but I’m leaving the door open for potential modification,” said Newkirk. “The best way to show your sincerity is to live a model life for the benefit of yourself and the community.”


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