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Driver who killed Kingsport businessman denied parole

Rain Smith • Aug 14, 2019 at 1:49 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The drunk driver who fatally struck a prominent Kingsport businessman in 2014 will spend at least two more years in prison.

James Hamm’s request for parole has been denied, according to Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus. Last week Hamm went before the parole board, where Debbie Locke, the widow of Mike Locke, urged that Hamm remain behind bars.

Mike Locke founded the popular Hot Dog Hut in Kingsport and briefly served as state representative for the 2nd House District. In May 2014, he was on a bridge along Fort Henry Drive when he was struck by Hamm’s vehicle, whick knocked him off the roadway and into a ravine 20 feet below.

At the time of the incident, Locke was posting campaign signs for former Kingsport police officer Bud Hulsey, who later won the seat for the 2nd House District. In August 2015 — not far from the spot where Locke was struck — a sign was erected to recognize a section of Fort Henry Drive as the Michael K. Locke Memorial Bridge.

Using witness statements and video, police and prosecutors later pieced together what occurred prior to Hamm hitting Locke. 

Hamm had visited the Colonial Heights Package Store on Fort Henry Drive. While leaving, he drove his SUV forward over the curb, across a sidewalk, and into the exterior wall of an adjacent restaurant in the strip mall, Raffaele’s.

After striking Locke, an intoxicated Hamm pulled his vehicle over on John B. Dennis Highway. Kingsport police reported that a passing motorist sensed something was amiss and stopped, then took Hamm’s keys until officers arrived.

In May 2016, Hamm received a 14-year prison sentence with no parole eligibility until 30 percent of the time had been served. His parole eligibility first came up in August 2017 with “good time” credits dictated by Tennessee law. He is next eligible for parole in 2021.

In May the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill to prevent future violent felons from using sentencing credits to speed up their release eligibility. It was motivated in part by Locke's death and the Hamm case and was sponsored by Hulsey and Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

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