NEW INFO: Trial Date Set for Suspect in Deadly DUI Crash

By: Amanda Barren; Olivia Fecteau; WSAZ News Staff Email
By: Amanda Barren; Olivia Fecteau; WSAZ News Staff Email
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UPDATE 7/25/13
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A trial date has been set for a man accused of killing a woman in a DUI crash.

Michael Couch, 43, of Huntington, is charged with DUI causing death, third offense driving under the influence of alcohol and third offense driving on a suspended/revoked license because of DUI convictions.

Investigators say on March 17, Couch crossed the center line on 5th Street Hill in Huntington, hitting Deborah Rakes' car head-on.

Rakes, 52, died from her injuries.

During his hearing Thursday, Couch's attorney asked for a bond reduction. Judge Paul Farrell denied the request, saying that Couch presents a danger to society and shows reckless indifference.

His bond remains at $250,000 cash.

His trial is set for November.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 6/25/13
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Huntington man who police say is responsible for killing a woman during a drunk driving accident has pleaded not guilty after being indicted by a Cabell County Grand Jury.

In May, the grand jury charged Michael Couch, 43, with DUI causing death, third offense driving under the influence of alcohol and third offense driving on a suspended/revoked license because of DUI convictions.

Following the not guilty pleas, Couch’s bond was set at $250,000 cash.

His next court hearing is set for July 25.

Investigators say on March 17 Couch crossed the center line on 5th Street Hill in Huntington, hitting Deborah Rakes' car head-on.

Rakes, 52, died from her injuries.

Couch is no stranger to a courtroom. According to the criminal complaint, Couch has faced DUI charges four times in the past; one in 1997, another in 1999 and two charges in the 2005.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 524/13 @ 5:30 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Huntington man who police say is responsible for killing a woman during a drunk driving accident has been indicted by a Cabell County Grand Jury.

Michael Couch, 43, of Huntington, is charged with DUI causing death, third offense driving under the influence of alcohol and third offense driving on a suspended/revoked license because of DUI convictions.

The indictment against Couch was unsealed Friday afternoon.

Investigators say on March 17 Couch crossed the center line on 5th Street Hill in Huntington, hitting Deborah Rakes' car head-on.

Rakes, 52, died from her injuries.

Couch is no stranger to a courtroom. According to the criminal complaint, Couch has faced DUI charges four times in the past; one in 1997, another in 1999 and two charges in the 2005.

Couch should be back in court next week to be arraigned on the charges.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 4/8/13 @ 12 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The driver charged in connection with what police say was a deadly drinking and driving crash waived his right preliminary hearing Monday.

Michael Couch, 43, of Huntington, is charged with DUI causing death in the crash that killed Deborah Rakes on March 17.

Investigators say Couch crossed the center line on 5th Street Hill in Huntington, hitting Deborah Rakes' car head-on.

Rakes, 52, died from her injuries.

Couch’s case will now go to a grand jury.

The March 17 crash marked the fifth time Couch has faced a DUI charge.

Couch's other four charges were in 1997, 1999 and two in the year 2005.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/29/13 @ 8:20 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va., (WSAZ) -- The tragic accident that claimed the life of Deborah "Debbie" Rakes on St. Patrick's Day is raising many questions about repeat DUI offenders.

Police say Michael Shane Couch was driving drunk and caused the accident that led to the death of Rakes.

Couch is currently facing a DUI causing death charge. This marks the fifth time he's been charged with a DUI. He spent time behind bars. He also was not convicted of all five of those driving under the influence charges.

This accident is raising questions about repeat offenders getting behind the wheel, and the arrest of a recent repeat DUI offender is certainly an eye-opening statement.

Jeffrey Allen Mays was arrested a few weeks ago in Huntington on a DUI charge when police responded to a call about a wrecked vehicle.

According to the criminal complaint, Mays already had five previous DUI charges.

During the course of his interaction with the officer Mays said, "Go ahead and arrest me, they don't do (expletive) to me anyways."

In West Virginia, a driver's first two DUI charges are considered misdemeanors. The third offense is a felony.

In Ohio and Kentucky the first three DUI charges are misdemeanors. The fourth is a felony.

These are the procedure on the books. It doesn't always happen if a defendant makes a plea to a lesser charge.

Both members of law enforcement and prosecutors say short of being with someone 24/7, there is no way to prevent them from getting behind the wheel.



UPDATE 3/29/13 @ 1 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The driver charged in what police say was a deadly drinking and driving crash had his preliminary hearing continued to next month on Friday.

Michael Couch, 43, of Huntington in charged with DUI causing death in the crash that killed Deborah Rakes on March 17.

Investigators say Couch crossed the center line on 5th Street Hill in Huntington, hitting Deborah Rakes' car head-on.

Rakes, 52, died from her injuries.

Couch’s preliminary hearing was supposed to take place Friday morning in Cabell County Magistrate Court.

The hearing was postponed until April 8 due to an issue getting him a court-appointed attorney.

The March 17 crash marked the fifth time Couch has faced a DUI charge.

His other four charges were in 1997, 1999, and two in the year 2005.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/20/13 @ 9:15 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Michael Couch offered a tearful apology Tuesday as he was arrested and accused of driving drunk and killing Debbie Rakes.

"I am so sorry," Couch said crying with his hands over his face, "I would trade places with her if I could."

According to the criminal complaint in this latest case, he told the paramedic helping him during the accident that he had "a couple" drinks.

Couch was behind the wheel Sunday during the accident, as well as countless others. However, he hasn't had driving privileges since 1996.

Sunday's fatal crash on 5th Street Hill in Huntington marked the fifth time Couch has faced a DUI charge.

His other four charges were in 1997, 1999, and two in the year 2005.

"We obviously can't keep them from driving," explained Cabell County Assistant Prosecutor Sean Hammers, "unless they are locked up. In this instance, this gentleman had been locked up on a number of occasions for DUI."

In Couch’s convictions in 2005, he spent time behind bars.

At one point, he was released on home confinement and was put back behind bars when he tried to escape.

"Those were misdemeanors but because he's allegedly continued to abuse alcohol and get charged with other DUI crimes, now DUI with death, he's entered into the next level," Hammers said.

The signs of this problem were at least 22 years in the making.

WSAZ.com discovered from Cabell County court records that Couch’s first charge of public intoxication dates back to 1991.

Couch faced the same charge twice in 1993, in 1999 and again in 2001.

"In a lot of instances, we are limited about what a prosecutor can do to help these people," Hammers said.

In addition to Couch’s record involving alcohol, he's faced a charge of domestic battery, attempted burglary, no insurance, speeding and a host of others.

He was not convicted of all the charges listed. In some cases, they were dropped. In other cases, they were dismissed.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/19/13 @ 6:24 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Police have arrested the driver they say caused a deadly crash because he was under the influence behind the wheel.

The crash happened Sunday on 5th Street Hill.

Investigators say Michael Couch crossed the center line, hitting Deborah Rakes' car head-on.

She was 52-years-old and died from her injuries.

Couch said Tuesday that he's sorry for what he did.

WSAZ.com had the chance to sit down with Rakes’ family Tuesday afternoon.

As you can imagine, they're devastated -- not just by what happened, but why.

“What's the old saying?” Willie Rakes asked. “Behind every man's a good woman? There's a little asterisk to that. A heck of a good woman. And there's none finer. None finer.”

“She was one of the greatest people you'll ever meet,” Maddie Rakes Chandler said.

For Willie, Debbie was his other half. They'd been together 31 years -- married for 27. He told us she was his whole world.

“I could get married a hundred times and never marry the person I married,” Rakes said.

For Maddie, her mom was her closest confidante, her biggest fan, her most trusted adviser.

“She was a needle in a haystack,” Chandler said. “One in a million.”

In a picture taken just a few months ago, there were five generations -- including Maddie's own daughter.

“You have this 8-month-old little girl who's never going to know her grandmother because somebody's ... let's make a deal... You know, I won't do it again,” Rakes said. “Well guess what, yeah, you did, and you killed my wife in the process.”

Sunday's crash left Willie and Maddie with more questions than answers.

“How could he do that?” Chandler asked. “How could he, knowing that he's drunk or whatever, get behind the wheel ... It's not right.”

“I would just simply like to know why a judge could let him go on three, and basically give him the right to kill my wife,” Rakes said. “To kill her mother.”

Debbie had just left church when the crash happened. She was on her way to the hospital to visit her sister.

Her family told us Debbie’s mother was actually in another crash on the way to see Debbie, after hearing about her crash.

Debbie's mother is out of the hospital tonight.



UPDATE 3/19/13 @ 4:04 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Huntington Police have arrested the man they say is responsible for a deadly drinking and driving crash on Sunday.

Michael Shane Couch, of Huntington, was arrested after he was released from a Huntington hospital Tuesday afternoon. Police are charging Couch with DUI causing death.

Deborah Rakes, 52, of Kenova, was killed in the crash that happened on 5th Street Hill just after 1 p.m. Sunday.

Police say Couch was driving a van up 5th Street Road when he veered across the center line near the crest of the hill, and crashed head-on into the car Rakes was driving.

Rakes died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Couch broke down and began crying as he was wheeled into police headquarters.

“I’m so sorry it was an accident," Couch told WSAZ.com. "I would trade places with her if I could.”

Investigators say evidence collected at the scene indicates that Couch was under the influence of alcohol. They also say that records indicate Couch has a number of prior DUI convictions, and was driving on a suspended license for DUI.

Police say additional charges are possible.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/18/13 @ 5:10 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Huntington Police say a man who was drunk is responsible for a deadly accident on 5th Street Road.

Deborah Rakes, 52,of Kenova, was killed in the crash just after 1 p.m. Sunday.

Huntington Police are charging Michael Shane Couch, of Huntington with DUI Causing Death in connection with the fatal accident.

Police say Couch was driving a van up 5th Street Road when he veered across the center line near the crest of the hill, and crashed head-on into the car Rakes was driving.

Rakes and Couch were both extracted from their vehicles and transported to Cabell Huntington Hospital. Rakes died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Investigators say evidence collected at the scene indicates that Couch was under the influence of alcohol. They also say that records indicate Couch has a number of prior DUI convictions, and was driving on a suspended license for DUI.

As of Monday night, Couch had not been arrested.

Police say additional charges are possible.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 3/18/13 @ 12 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The driver of a car involved in a crash on 5th Street Road in Huntington has died from injuries in the accident.

Huntington Police said a minivan and a car collided head-on just before 1 p.m Sunday at the crest of the road just past the intersection with Honeysuckle Road.

The car ended up against the hillside with heavy damage to the drivers side. The driver of the car had to be cut out before being taken to the hospital.

Captain Mike Albers says Deborah Rakes, of Kenova, later died of her injuries.

The man driving the van was also injured and taken to the hospital. No word on his condition.

Police have not released a cause of the fatal crash. They said more information could be released Monday afternoon.

The road was closed for several hours following the crash so investigators could reconstruct the accident.



UPDATE 3/17/13 @ 4:45 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After a bad accident Sunday afternoon, 5th Street Road in Huntington has reopened to traffic as of late afternoon.

Police said a minivan and a car collided head-on just before 1 p.m. at the crest of the road near the Stonecrest Drive intersection. The area is just up the hill from the I-64 on-ramp.

The drivers of the cars -- one man and one woman -- were taken to Cabell-Huntington Hospital for their injuries. Firefighters had to cut the woman out of her sedan, a Toyota Camry. The man was driving a Dodge Caravan.

No word yet on the condition of either driver or what caused the crash.

Investigators left the road closed for a couple of hours to reconstruct the crash.

"It's very early preliminary stages right now," Huntington Police Sergeant Shawn Bowles said. "What we're going to do at this point is just kind of leave everything the way it is, and we have some traffic investigators on their way, and they're going to try to piece it together from here for us."

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



ORIGINAL STORY 3/17/13 @ 1:30 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Emergency crews say a portion of 5th Street has been shut down following a bad car crash.

It happened just before 1 p.m. Saturday.

A minivan and a car collided near the Stonecrest Drive intersection.

Police say the woman driving the car and the man driving the minivan were taken to Cabell-Huntington Hospital.

Dispatchers tell WSAZ.com both directions of traffic have been stopped and the road is shut down.

No word on when the road will reopen or what caused the crash.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.


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