A 72-year-old woman pleaded guilty Thursday to vehicular manslaughter in the hit-and-run death of an MMA fighter’s 15-month- old son and was immediately sentenced to six years in prison.
Donna Marie Higgins had also been charged with two counts related to drunken driving and hit-and-run for the Sept. 3, 2016, crash at the intersection of 133rd Street and Hawthorne Boulevard. Those charges were dismissed under a plea negotiated with prosecutors.
Higgins was immediately taken into custody.
Liam Mikel Kowal was being pushed in a stroller by his 15-year-old aunt in a crosswalk when they were struck by an SUV driven by Higgins. Witnesses followed Higgins for about a block, then used their vehicles to box in the SUV until police arrived.
Surgeons at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center were able to stabilize the child following the collision. But his parents, MMA fighter/trainer Marcus Kowal and Mishel Eder, made the decision to remove him from life support and donate his organs after medical tests showed that he would not recover.
The toddler’s aunt was also injured in the crash.
Kowal spoke in court Thursday, saying Higgins had to have seen the toddler and teen girl “lying unconscious in the middle of the street, yet she tried to flee the scene.”
Eder said she longs “every day for my old life back and long every day for my baby back.”
Higgins was initially arrested on suspicion of hit-and-run and drunken driving, then booked four days later on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter after the toddler was taken off life support. She was released on bond.
At his son’s Sept. 12, 2016, memorial service, Kowal talked about the outpouring of support following the tragedy.
“As horrific of a week (as) this has been, I’ve never seen or felt as much love, all because of Liam,” the MMA fighter said. “People have come together in ways I have never seen before … (It) has meant so much to us.”
The boy’s parents co-founded Liam’s Life Foundation in their son’s honor in an effort to “change the social culture around drinking and driving through awareness, education and partnerships.”
The foundation will also work closely with the automotive industry to ensure that technology for automatic braking be made available and mandatory for all cars, according to a statement posted on the foundation’s website.
Kowal has also been active on social media urging the public not to drink and drive.
–City News Service