Driver pleads guilty to killing boy

Woman, 72, gets six years in prison for DUI crash that left 15-month-old dead.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By James Queally james.queally@la­times.com Twit­ter: @JamesQueal­lyLAT

A 72-year-old woman pleaded guilty to ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter Thurs­day in con­nec­tion with a drunk driv­ing crash that killed the tod­dler son of a mixed mar­tial arts fighter, of­fi­cials said.

Donna Marie Hig­gins was sen­tenced to six years in prison for smash­ing her car into the stroller of 15-mon­thold Liam Mikael Kowal in Hawthorne last year, said Ri­cardo San­ti­ago, a spokesman for the Los An­ge­les County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

The boy’s father, fighter Mar­cus Kowal, was in the court­room for the sen­tenc­ing, ac­cord­ing to his Face­book page.

“Welcome to The Karma Cafe. There are no menus. You will get served what you de­serve,” read a pic­ture Kowal posted to In­sta­gram Thurs­day morn­ing, an­nounc­ing his ar­rival at the Air­port Court­house.

Hig­gins was ar­rested Sept. 3 af­ter she slammed her car into Liam’s stroller, which was be­ing pushed in a cross­walk by his 15-year-old aunt, near Hawthorne Boule­vard and 133rd Street.

The boy did not have a pulse when po­lice found him in his stroller at the crash scene. Liam’s aunt was also in­jured, po­lice said.

The Kowal fam­ily de­cided to take the boy off life sup­port the next day.

“About an hour ago, our baby was de­clared brain dead,” Kowal wrote on Face­book at the time. “He tried to fight so hard. He even died at one point but they brought him back. He’s a lit­tle fighter. His heart is still beat­ing but his brain is no longer work­ing.”

Hig­gins was ini­tially booked on sus­pi­cion of felony hit-and-run and drunk driv­ing charges. Pros­e­cu­tors moved to charge her with ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter af­ter the boy died.

A long­time res­i­dent of Hawthorne, Hig­gins was driv­ing to a store on the day of the crash and has ex­pressed ex­treme sor­row over the child’s death, said her at­tor­ney, Richard A. Hut­ton.

“What hap­pened was a ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent,” he said. “She’s deeply re­morse­ful, has taken full re­spon­si­bil­ity for her ac­tions and is very sorry for the grief she caused ev­ery­body, in par­tic­u­lar the par­ents.”

Kowal has be­come ac­tive in cam­paigns against drunk driv­ing since the fa­tal wreck, cir­cu­lat­ing a pe­ti­tion for leg­is­la­tors to toughen le­gal-limit laws that gen­er­ally al­low peo­ple to drive with a blood­al­co­hol con­tent of less than 0.08%.

“I’m glad we get the chance to speak to her di­rectly and that she will be off the streets and be­hind bars. How­ever, she’s so in­signif­i­cant in the fight ahead that it’s just a small battle along the way,” Kowal wrote in a Wed­nes­day post be­fore the hear­ing.

“We won’t stop un­til there’s been sig­nif­i­cant change made in this coun­try and around the world, so that oth­ers don’t have to lose their moth­ers, or fa­thers, or broth­ers, or sis­ters or es­pe­cially, chil­dren.”

Pho­to­graphs by Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

MAR­CUS KOWAL and his wife, Mishel Eder, leave court in July. Kowal, a mixed mar­tial arts fighter, be­came ac­tive in cam­paigns against drunk driv­ing af­ter his son, Liam Mikael Kowal, was killed in Septem­ber.

DONNA MARIE HIG­GINS, 72, of Hawthorne pleaded guilty to ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter. She is “very sorry for the grief she caused ev­ery­body,” her at­tor­ney said.

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