KINGSPORT — When Debbie Locke found out that her husband had been killed by a drunken driver, her first reaction was one of utter disbelief.
“My home was just bombarded with friends and supporters,” Locke said. “It was just unreal. It still is.”
Debbie Locke is the widow of Mike Locke, former state representative and founder of the popular local eatery the Hot Dog Hut. Locke was killed on June 23, 2014, when an intoxicated driver struck him on Fort Henry Drive, sending him into a ravine 20 feet below.
The driver, James Hamm, has been incarcerated since his arrest. He was convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication, felony reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a collision involving a fatality and failure to exercise due care. He was later sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Now, less than 15 months after being sentenced, Hamm will be up for parole on Aug. 10.
“If he gets out, he will do it again, and this will put somebody else at risk,” Locke said. “Honestly, I’m appalled. I’m appalled that we the citizens of Kingsport or the state of Tennessee have to do this.”
To try to prevent Hamm’s parole release, Locke has started a petition that she plans to send to the parole board in Nashville.
She has circulated copies at several local businesses, including Blue Ridge Properties, Wallace News, LampLight Theatre, River Mountain Antiques, Hot Dog Hut, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Up Against the Wall Gallery, JK Collectibles, Town & Country Realty, Southern Dwellings and Andes-Straley Veterinary Hospital.
She has also sent the petition to family and friends in other states including Texas, Illinois, Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
So far, Locke estimates that she has gotten between 850 and 900 signatures. Her goal is to get as many as possible by the middle of next week, at which point she will gather all the petitions and send them to Nashville.
“Mike was loved everywhere,” Locke said, “and I just want as many of his supporters and friends as I can get.”
On the evening Mike Locke was killed, he was putting out campaign signs for Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, who was running for state representative at the time. Hulsey later won the election and holds the office Locke himself previously held.
Hulsey said he has signed the petition and plans to join Locke and her family at Hamm’s parole hearing.
“Perhaps Tennessee should become more like Virginia and mandate a healthy percentage that has to be served for each class of felonies, do away with parole altogether, and when a felon is released he goes on probation for the remainder of his sentence,” Hulsey said. “People expect justice, and three years and two months is not just for taking the life of Mike Locke or anybody else in the same circumstance.”
Locke said she hopes people throughout the community will exercise their right to sign the petition.
“There is a void in this community because Mike is not here,” Locke said. “This, right now, is my mission, to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Staff writer Hank Hayes contributed to this report.
Those who would like to sign the petition but cannot go to one of the abovementioned businesses can email Locke at [email protected] to receive an electronic copy of the petition.