By Caitlin VanOverberghe, Daily Reporter
GREENFIELD — Cindy McCloud held out an urn of her daughter’s ashes as she spoke to Timothy Hughes from the witness stand: “This is Carla now.”
The mother of 22-year-old Carla McCloud, killed Aug. 11 when Hughes struck her with his car while driving drunk, was one of more than a dozen people who addressed the court Tuesday at Hughes’ sentencing. Each pleaded with the judge: hold Hughes responsible.
After sitting quietly through nearly four hours of testimony, Hancock Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver handed down the maximum sentence: 9½ years in a state prison.
Culver called the 18-year-old defendant selfish, destructive and — perhaps most importantly — likely to offend again, based on a pattern of substance abuse and poor choices.
Hughes pleaded guilty Tuesday to six felonies and one misdemeanor, admitting he was drunk behind the wheel when his car struck and killed McCloud and injured her cousin, Amanda Wheeler, 22.
McCloud, a 2011 New Palestine High School graduate, was a master’s student at the University of Indianapolis, studying occupational therapy.
Hughes, then 17, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.28 percent at the time of the accident, more than three times the threshold for an adult who could legally drink, police said.
McCloud and Wheeler were riding their bikes along County Road 300S in New Palestine that night, just a few minutes from McCloud’s home, when Hughes’ car struck them. Wheeler was treated for serious injuries and released from the hospital days later. McCloud did not survive.
Though he was 17, Hughes was charged as an adult after prosecutors argued he had a history of substance abuse and knowingly put others at risk. Hughes had narcotics in the car with him, as well as a water bottle filled with vodka, at the time of the crash, court records state.
Hughes was charged with reckless homicide; operating while intoxicated causing death; operating with a .08 percent or higher blood-alcohol level causing death; operating while intoxicated causing serious injury; operating with a .08 percent or higher blood-alcohol level causing injury; possession of a narcotic drug; and illegal possession of an alcoholic beverage.
On Tuesday, Hughes pleaded guilty to all charges and apologized to McCloud’s family and his own, admitting he abuses drugs and alcohol to deal with his problems.
“If there was any way I could change what happened, or anything I could do to bring her back, I would do it,” he said. “I would gladly switch places with her if I could.”
Prior to sentencing, Jim McNew, Hughes’ attorney, asked the judge to remember the teen’s demeanor when he first appeared in court last summer after the accident. Hughes cried that day, already showing the sorrow over McCloud’s death, McNew said.
He argued Hughes needs counseling to get clean — not punishment.
“This is not some hardened criminal,” McNew said.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton countered that the chances for Hughes to reoffend are too high, and putting him away for the maximum sentence was the only way to spare others from what McCloud’s family has gone through.
The teen’s struggles with substance abuse have been talked about openly in court over the last six months. Hughes disclosed he has received treatment for alcohol and drug addiction, and police reports revealed he was on his way home from an alcoholics anonymous meeting when the crash occurred.
During his first appearance in court, Hughes called the crash and McCloud’s death his wake-up call to get clean and make better choices. He made that promise again a few months later after he was rearrested on a new offense: he was caught using drugs while awaiting trial.
That pattern of self-destruction is something his victims’ families told the court Tuesday they weren’t ready to forgive or forget.
For more than three hours, dozens of McCloud’s and Wheeler’s friends and family members took the witness stand to tell the judge how their lives have changed since the accident.
“He was going to do this sooner or later do somebody. I’m just sad it had to be my daughter,” Ken McCloud, Carla’s father, said.
Witnesses also told of the lasting effects of Wheeler’s injuries. The 22-year-old suffered a brain injury when she fractured her skull in the crash.
Now, she struggles to remember things. She’s completely lost her sense of smell, and her doctors don’t know if it will ever return.
Wheeler told the judge she takes medication daily to keep migraines and headaches at bay, and she needs extra rest to combat muscles pains and weakness she has as a result of the accident.
But all of those physical injuries pale in comparison to the emotional pain she feels. Wheeler is plagued by survivor’s guilt; she wonders why she survived the crash when her cousin and best friend did not.
McCloud’s mother told the judge her daughter wanted to charge the world; she was working toward her master’s degree, had plans for a successful career and one day a family.
Those dreams were snatched away by the poor choices Hughes made, she said.
She shook with anger while looking at Hughes.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t shape up,” she said.