TAUNTON — Six months after a hit-and-run accident left a popular town official dead in Seekonk, Joseph LaCourse walked into police headquarters with key information and a heavy heart, police said.
He told officers he believed his son, Jacob, might have been involved in the crash and wanted authorities to know.
A police report states Joseph LaCourse was visibly upset and in “great grief.”
“The man had a conscience,” Seekonk Police Chief Craig Mace said. “We knew we needed the public’s help to find this guy.”
Joseph LaCourse’s son, 24-year-old Jacob LaCourse, was charged Monday with leaving the scene of a deadly motor vehicle accident and negligent operation of a motor vehicle. He was arraigned in Taunton District Court and held on $1 million cash bail.
Jacob LaCourse pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Mace described the case as personal for him and other employees at Seekonk Town Hall.
The crash victim, 51-year-old Karen McHugh, was the assistant town clerk.
“It was horrible,” Mace said after the arraignment. “There were a lot of people who had a lot of feelings about that crash. And I say crash and not accident, because if you leave the scene of a crime . . . it’s not an accident.”
About 10 p.m. on Jan. 30, police responded to a call regarding an injured person and found McHugh on the side of Arcade Avenue in Seekonk, near her home.
She was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Mace said Seekonk detectives have worked seven days a week to investigate leads and potential witnesses since the crash. Yet there was little progress until Joseph LaCourse divulged his suspicions to police Friday night.
In court, Michael Cahillane, a Bristol assistant district attorney, detailed the information LaCourse’s family provided.
Investigators knew they were searching for a General Motors vehicle, which probably suffered passenger-side damage and the loss of a side mirror, Cahillane said.
Joseph LaCourse led them to the car believed to have struck McHugh.
“His father said [Jacob] drove a Chevy Malibu at the time of the incident,” Cahillane said. “And at some point after the date of the hit-and-run, he no longer saw [Jacob’s] Malibu.”
Police found a silver 2001 Chevrolet Malibu, registered to Jacob LaCourse, soon after the father’s statement. Prosecutors said the vehicle bore damage consistent with evidence recovered from the scene.
The police report also states that LaCourse’s girlfriend told investigators that LaCourse admitted hitting someone with his vehicle and leaving the scene. She allegedly shared that information with her boyfriend’s father and sister, which prompted Joseph LaCourse to contact the police.
Jacob LaCourse’s lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, declined to comment on the facts of the case, but called the crash a “tragic, tragic day for everyone involved.”
“It’s a gut-wrenching moment,” he said. “[LaCourse] is inclined to take this one step at a time. . . . He has great sympathy for the family of the victim.”
Separately, according to Cahillane, LaCourse is charged with two counts of rape and two counts of intimidating a witness related to a 2012 incident. LaCourse was free on bail when he was arrested Friday.
He has pleaded not guilty to those previous allegations.
“I am confident he will be exonerated of those charges,” Gordon said.
LaCourse has 11 previous traffic and driving violations.
At the time of his arrest, he worked at Kings Oak Pizza in Seekonk, the police report said.
Cahillane sought $500,000 cash bail in the case.
District Court Judge Gregory L. Phillips decided bail should be higher, raising it to $1 million cash or $10 million bond.
Karen McHugh’s family, including her mother, Joan, sat in the first row of the courtroom during LaCourse’s arraignment.
Afterward, Joan McHugh praised the judge’s decision to set a higher bail.
“It still doesn’t help the pain,” she said quickly, leaving the courthouse.
Karen McHugh’s wife, Sandy Lima, could not be reached for comment.
A probable-cause hearing has been set for Aug. 21.
Mace, the police chief, said he has kept Lima updated on the progress of the investigation.
“We hope this is the starting process for closure, but it’s not like we’re celebrating,” he said. “How do you make any sense of something like this?”
Astead W. Herndon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.