DUI Driver, 72, Gets 6 Years in Prison in Hit-and-Run Death of MMA Fighter’s Toddler Son in Hawthorne

A 72-year-old woman who was drunk when she ran over and killed an MMA fighter’s toddler son in the South Bay was sentenced to six years in state prison on Thursday.

Donna Marie Higgins pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in connection with a DUI crash that killed Liam Mikael Kowal, the 15-month-old child of MMA fighter Marcus Kowal (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Donna Marie Higgins appears in court. (Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Donna Marie Higgins pleaded guilty to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and was immediately sentenced under the terms of a negotiated plea deal, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

Higgins was driving through Hawthorne on Sept. 3, 2016, when she struck 15-month-old Liam Kowal — son of local mixed martial arts fighter Marcus Kowal — and his teenage aunt, who was pushing the child’s stroller through a crosswalk.

Higgins allegedly continued driving until her SUV was stopped by witnesses a short distance away. The DA’s office referred to the crash as a “hit-and-run” in a news release Thursday.

The toddler was declared brain dead after the crash and his organs were donated, his father said on Facebook. His teen aunt was also injured.

Liam Mikael Kowal is seen in a photo posted to a GoFundMe page.

Higgins was originally charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury, driving with a .08 percent or more blood alcohol content causing injury, and hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person.

If convicted of those charges, she faced up to 12 years in state prison, the DA’s office said at the time of her arraignment last fall. As part of the plea deal, the other charges were dropped, the DA’s spokesman said.

After an emotional hearing at the Airport Courthouse Thursday morning, Higgins was handcuffed and taken away from the courtroom, the Daily Breeze reported.  During the proceeding, Higgins said nothing other than offering her plea, according to the Breeze.

Marcus Kowal’s wife recently gave birth the couple’s second son, the Breeze reported. The family has created a foundation in Liam’s name – Liam’s Life – to raise awareness about drunken driving.

“This is a very small battle in a much bigger fight to make sure Liam’s life wasn’t taken in vain,” Kowal said outside the courthouse.