BRETT’S STORY: THE DAY THAT CHANGED OUR LIVES FOREVER
By Chrissie Poarch (Aunt)
My heart sank on Sunday morning, September 17, 2017, when my mother and I watched a Georgia State Patrol trooper and a coroner walk up our sidewalk. Everything went into slow motion as they asked my mother if she was related to Brett Ray Couch. We started questioning him and the trooper informed us that Brett had been killed that morning at 5:20 a.m. on I-75 at mile marker 330. We were crying so hard and asked if they were sure it was Brett. The answer was a devasting yes. When we asked how this could have happened, the trooper stated that he wanted us to know that Brett was not at fault and that the offender was allegedly under the influence. As we sat there crying, it seemed like I was watching a movie. It was not real as we could not grasp all they were telling us.
The coroner assured us that Brett died on impact and did not suffer. That helped some knowing that my precious nephew Brett did not suffer. I have worked in the medical field most of my life and I know the process of a fatality.
Brett’s body arrived back in Whitfield County while we were making funeral arrangements. As we gathered and were giving our goodbyes, I remember his body being so cold and lifeless. I ran my fingers through his soft hair and begged him to wake up. I could not stand watching my dad, Brett’s ‘Pee Paw’, cry and lay on him telling him how much he loved him when he kissed his cheek. Then it was his ‘Mee Maw Kathy’s turn to tell him good-bye. It was devastating to watch my mother, Brett’s ‘Maw Maw’ talk to him and tell him we will see him again one day in heaven. Our family never knew how many lives Brett had touched until his funeral when the facility was overfilled with mourning family, friends, and Brett’s extended family, The Duckworth’s, close friends that he called family.
Brett was living with me, my son, and my mother when he was killed. We were all very close, and I loved him just like I love my children. Since I ended up being the main family member responsible for the planning and executing the funeral., I ended up hiding my pain and grieving in private as I assisted my sister and parents. The thing his mother said that sticks with me the most is the day we went to pick up Brett’s ashes. My sister said that the first time she took Brett home was in a blanket and now she was taking him home in an urn.
Brett was only 26 years old and had his whole life in front of him. We will never get to celebrate his birthday, cook outs, family gatherings, or holidays cooking together. There had been surprise plans by his friends to celebrate his 27th birthday in a few weeks at the new Duckworth arena that Brett had helped build. Instead, we celebrated Brett’s life. His friends built a memorial and planted a tree at the new arena in his memory. As his friend Sam said “this way, he will always be a part of the farm and arena. He will always be touching the ring.” Our family buried some of Brett’s ashes there and when we visit, we can feel his spirit.
The offender not only killed Brett but they killed a part of his family as well. Our family has been through so many stages of grief: shock, anger, numbness, loss, sadness, and just broken and not knowing what to do next. It is so hard to watch my strong parents grieve for their grandson and my sister for her son, not to mention the rest of us.
Brett loved Christmas and always wanted a live tree. After we picked it out, he would trim it and place it in the house. The first Christmas without Brett I went by myself and took a tree to his memorial and decorated it instead of our home where it should have been. It is now a yearly tradition. Our holidays were cold and lonely for us. We did not care if we celebrated or not. It is just not the same without him. Our family would never hear his laughter, see his goofy smile, hear his “I love you,” or see him feed the horses on the farm, which was a passion we shared. We relive the pain all over again year after year when September 17th comes around as well as his birthday and the holidays that follow.
No family deserves to have to experience such tragedy. Having to use words as WAS and DECEASED for such a young man is not fair. Brett had
just told his best friend on the Wednesday before his crash that she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. I know we will see him again one day as Brett was a Christian and loved his Lord Jesus Christ, but that still does not help our loss. The emotions you go through are unbelievable. My children were very close to their cousin Brett. After three years, it is still a struggle. My son must drive by mile marker 330 daily to and from work. He says he tears up every time he passes the crash site where Brett died.
Dealing with the criminal justice process over the actions of the drugged driver was unbearable. My mother and I attended the offender’s bail hearing. The police arrested the offender as a fugitive of the state for not turning themself in after being released from a drug rehabilitation center. The judge allowed a $6,000 bond against the DA’s request of no bond due to their history and outstanding warrants. Within 14 hours of being arrested, the offender was released from jail on bail for only $600. MADD Georgia assisted our family as we struggled with the pain. Eventually, the case went to Superior Court in Whitfield County. Our family asked for the maximum penalty for the crime to stop them from killing another innocent loved one. The drugged driver is currently in prison for vehicular homicide and possession of meth for eight years on a 15-year sentence.
I wish to express our sincerest gratitude to the law enforcement personnel for the compassion they had for our family. Special thanks to State Trooper Dedmon who came to the house and helped answer our questions. I have no hate in my heart for the offender because a child of God loves and forgives everyone no matter what they have done to you or your family, but it takes time to process. All that remains are memories of Brett and a DUI memorial sign on I-75 to mark the end of a young man’s life by a drugged driver.
Texas Pictures is an industrial video production company. We were established 14 years ago and much of our work is training or promotional productions for businesses. We also frequently work with law enforcement agencies to create productions that help to train officers or increase awareness about important issues such as impaired driving. These productions can present some unique challenges, but also provide unique rewards for us. These are such important stories to tell; to share because maybe, just maybe, some of these productions have saved a few lives. Our recently completed MADD Law Enforcement Series is ten short films for law enforcement audiences that tell many of these important stories.
Creating the series brought together a team of dedicated people from MADD and Texas Pictures, as well as 15 law enforcement agencies from all over the country. The goal was to use first-hand perspectives of victims and law enforcement officers to reinforce the importance of ardent enforcement of impaired driving laws. During the course of about six weeks, divided into three trips, we traveled over 8000 miles through 23 states across the US to gather footage for this series. We interviewed 20 victims or survivors, as well as 15 law enforcement officers ranging from patrol officers to command staff.
Because of Covid-19, we had to expand our standard field shooting kit to include a set of new items you wouldn’t normally expect to find with video production equipment. Along with the cameras, mics, lights, stands, and other gadgets, we added disinfecting wipes and spray, face masks, and a digital thermometer. The pandemic changed how we did things. Every shoot began with wiping down or sp
raying all our gear and noting everyone’s body temperature, then cleaning the gear again when we packed back up. We also had to structure interviews to be in more open settings and maintain greater distances between the subject and the crew. This all added a new challenge to creating that comfortable kind of setting that makes for good interview footage.
The 15 law enforcement officers we interviewed had similar perspectives about impaired driving regardless of rank or the part of the country we were in. They all face the same kinds of problems and all have that same kind of passion for stopping impaired drivers. They all shared similar concerns, similar frustrations, and similar experiences at traffic stops, crash scenes, and doorsteps. These officers, deputies, and troopers illustrated clearly just how significant of a problem impaired driving still is nationally.
The 20 victims and survivors who volunteered to speak with us were all remarkable people. They demonstrated incredible strength and resilience as they sat with us and openly, sometimes tearfully, relived the most painful day of their lives with the common hope that sharing their stories might save others from experiencing such a terrible loss. They were all brave, all heroes. Many of them also expressed deep gratitude toward the officers involved in their cases.
For us at Texas Pictures, we would not call this series a “difficult” project. Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging, but it was also rewarding. It was exciting to be a part of such an important effort. We met lots of great people; those in law enforcement and those that are victims or survivors. We met fighters, advocates, and leaders that all want to bring an end to impaired driving. It was a privilege to be trusted by the victims and survivors to tell their stories because maybe, just maybe, this series will save a few lives.
Editor’s note: MADD’s Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Roll Call Video project is a NHTSA funded Cooperative Agreement. The series of law enforcement videos produced during the project will be released in the near future. For more information about the video series, please contact Ron.Replogle@madd.org.
Corporal Casey Hancuff Boise Police Department Boise, Idaho
Cpl. Hancuff has made impaired driving education and enforcement the focus of his career. There is no doubt it has made a difference. Since joining the Boise Police Department’s Night STEP team in 2004, he has made more than 3,500 DUI arrests.
Over the years he has met many people who have lost loved ones because someone made the choice to drink or use drugs and drive. He was one of the first officers on scene when Jennifer Zavala’s father was killed by an impaired driver in 2016. During a recent multi-agency DUI team briefing for St. Patrick’s Day, Zavala and MADD Idaho surprised Cpl. Hancuff with a thank you card and handwritten notes with hundreds of signatures and messages from members of the community.
His fellow Night STEP officers also presented him with a sign to not only recognize the “3500 saves” he has made, but the passion and heart for service he brings to work every day.
MADD National is proud to recognize and select Corporal Casey Hancuff of the Boise Police Department as its April 2021 Officer of the Month. We thank him for his many years of dedicated service to the citizens of Boise and for his passion to remove impaired drivers from the roadways. Thank you to Miren Aburusa, Program Manager, MADD Idaho for her nomination of Corporal Hancuff for this recognition.
Editor’s note: Corporal Hancuff was interviewed and featured in MADD’s Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Roll Call Video project, a NHTSA funded Cooperative Agreement. Please also see the Guest Author article for more information about this project.
Border Patrol Agent Daniel Salazar was killed in a single-vehicle crash on the Bell Valley Truck Trail near Campos, California. He was responding to investigate a sensor that had been activated... Read more »
Deputy Sheriff Walter Jenkins was struck and killed at about 9:30 pm while directing traffic at the intersection of Highway 138 and Highway 212. He was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital... Read more »
Patrol Officer Brian Sember died from complications as the result of contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty. Officer Sember was a United States Marine Corps veteran and had served with... Read more »
Sergeant Nick Tullier succumbed to injuries sustained six years earlier when he was ambushed by a subject outside a convenience store at 9611 Airline Highway shortly before 9:00 am. Officers had... Read more »
Police Officer Darryl Fortner died from complications as the result of contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty. Officer Fortner had served with the Vestavia Hills Police Department for over seven... Read more »
NHTSA Early Estimates show an 18.4% increase in Traffic fatalities for the first half of 2021. With an estimated 20,160 people killed, this is the largest increase in the first half of a year since 2006. See the link to the report.
MADD’s 2021 Court Monitoring Report was recently released and can be found at this link. Of interest, nationally, the conviction rate is only 63% in the 17 states where MADD currently has court monitors. The report also lists state by state reports and all can be found here. .https://www.madd.org/the-solution/drunk-driving/court-monitoring/
MADD/Ipsos Poll: Consumers Support Drunk Driving Prevention Systems in Cars
Drug Impaired Driving Enforcement Training Opportunities Available
Impaired driving is one of the most serious problems on the roads today. As more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana, more law enforcement personnel must be trained in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). Training has proven to be an effective tool in the fight against impaired driving. Increasing the availability of ARIDE and DRE training to officers, prosecutors, and the judiciary is an important next step. Contracts will be awarded to eligible U.S. law enforcement agencies and organizations to deliver regional training. Read more.
NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts: Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2019
2021 National Lifesavers Conference Registration is Open – Registration is now open for the 2021 National Lifesavers Conference on Highway Safety Priorities, which will be held virtually. Register here >
DRE State Coordinator Best Practices Guide to Managing an Effective DEC Program – contains guidelines and recommendations for state DRE coordinators to enhance their DEC Program.
On November 12, NHTSA published a Request for Information (RFI) on available or late-stage technology under development for impaired driving detection and mitigation. The RFI’s goal is to better understand the state of emerging technologies, particularly those targeting alcohol-impaired driving. The notice requests information about the capabilities, limitations, and maturity of impaired driving technologies that are being researched, developed, or marketed.