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.