DUI driver who killed Kingsport businessman up for parole

Rain Smith • Aug 6, 2019 at 3:22 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The man convicted in 2014's drunken hit-and-run that killed Kingsport businessman Mike Locke had a parole hearing on Tuesday morning.

According to Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus, the hearing officer recommended that parole be denied for James Hamm. Staubus attended the hearing with Locke's widow, Debbie, and expects the parole board to vote on Hamm's status in the next two weeks.

Locke founded the popular Kingsport eatery the Hot Dog Hut, and he briefly served as state representative for the 2nd House District after the 2002 passing of Rep. Keith Westmoreland. He was also an active community volunteer in a number of organizations.

In May 2014, Locke was along Fort Henry Drive when he was fatally struck by Hamm's vehicle. 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 state 2nd House District.

In May 2016, Hamm received a 14-year prison sentence with no parole eligibility until 30 percent of the time had been served. His eligibility came up in August 2017 with "good time” credits dictated by Tennessee legislation. That allowed convicts to knock off portions of their sentences by working institutional jobs, taking part in prison programs and remaining discipline free.

Hamm was also given 887 credits for his incarceration in Sullivan County. From Hamm's arrest for Locke's death in June 2014 through his sentencing two years later, Hamm received 703 pretrial/time-served credits and 184 for good behavior. Each credit earned counts as one day served.

During this past May's meeting of the Tennessee General Assembly, a bill was passed to prevent future violent felons from using sentencing credits to speed up their release eligibility. It was sponsored by Rep. Hulsey and Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

The Times News will update Hamm's status once all of the parole board's votes are entered later this month. At Tuesday's hearing Locke's widow spoke to the board and requested Hamm stay imprisoned.

"Debbie Locke was very compelling," said Hulsey, who was also at the hearing. "I'm trusting that the parole board will do the right thing and deny parole."