, Corbin, KY

February 26, 2013

Couch murder trial still in March, Wagers pretrial hearing also in March

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble

Staff writer

The trial date for a Tennessee man charged with murder in a crash last July near Corbin on I-75 has now been moved to July of this year.

During a pretrial conference Monday in Laurel Circuit Court in London, Circuit Judge Gregory D. Lay set Austin T. Meredith’s date for a trial to July 23 at 9 a.m. Before that, Meredith is scheduled for a final pretrial conference on July 19, also at 9 a.m.

Meredith, 24, of Sevierville, Tenn., is charged with the murder of Howard M. “Red” White, 49, of the Shelby County community of Bagdad. White was operating a rollback wrecker on the early morning hours of July 7, 2012 on I-75 in Laurel County, north of Exit 29 in North Corbin, when he stopped in the emergency lane at the 30-mile marker to see if his load was secure.

While White was outside, a box truck driven by Meredith crossed the fog line, striking White and the parked wrecker. He was killed instantly.

Kentucky State Police-Vehicle Enforcement officers discovered White dead at the scene after they responded to the accident. They also found two passengers inside the wrecker at the time of the collision, who were not injured.

At the time of the collision, Meredith was under the influence of alcohol, according to officers. One officer stated alcohol was a direct factor in the accident. Meredith was charged with murder, wanton endangerment, DUI and several vehicle violations, and was jailed at the Laurel County Correctional Center.

During a pretrial conference almost a month later, attorney David Hoskins requested a reduction of Meredith’s $100,000 bond, which was denied.

The Laurel County Grand Jury indicted Meredith for murder, as well as two counts of wanton endangerment, driving under the influence of alcohol, and failing to maintain insurance on his vehicle. The grand jury also charged him with failing to maintain his log book, failing to have a U. S. Department of Transportation number and failing to have a medical certificate. All three of those charges were misdemeanors.

Also on Monday, Judge Lay deferred a ruling on the defense motion to dismiss in the case of a Laurel County man accused of murder.

Lay will have a ruling on the motion for Freddy Couch, 56, of Laurel Road at either Couch’s pretrial conference Thursday, Feb. 28, or at Couch’s trial date on March 4. Both the pre-trial and trial will start at 9 a.m. in Laurel Circuit Court.

Couch is accused of killing 36-year-old Kenneth Edward Vincent last April 29 at a home about five miles east of London.

Laurel County Sheriff’s Detective Jason Back and Lt. Rodney Van Zant arrested Couch at the home around 1:25 a.m. After Vincent’s death was investigated using physical evidence, autopsy results and interviews with persons at the scene, Sheriff’s Detective Charles Loomis reported that Vincent had been severely and fatally beaten to death.

An earlier report from the Laurel Sheriff’s Office said Vincent and Couch had gotten into an altercation after an argument shortly before midnight. Vincent reportedly had a knife during the altercation and Couch scuffled with him, apparently overpowering him. Reportedly, both went to sleep, with Couch in the bedroom and Vincent in the living room area, sleeping on the floor. When Couch woke up he found Vincent dead where he had slept. Vincent was pronounced dead at the scene by the Laurel County Coroner’s Office.

In a separate action in Laurel Circuit Court, Jason Wagers was signed up for another pretrial conference, with this one to be held March 25 at 9 a.m., with Judge Lay presiding.

Wagers, 35, of London, was handed a 14-count indictment in December by the Laurel County Grand Jury on two robbery charges involving two North Corbin businesses.

The charges involved robbing the Taco Bell restaurant last October, and the Cash Express store last June, both in North Corbin.

He remains jailed in the Laurel Correctional Facility under two separate $50,000 cash bonds.

Last Friday, Wagers was indicted on other charges in Knox Circuit Court. The first count indicted him on charges that allegedly occurred last August 29, when he was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. In 2011, Wagers was previously convicted of the same offense three times. The second count indicted him for his first offense of driving on a DUI-suspended or revoked license. The other two counts in Knox County were for failing to wear a seat belt and first-degree persistent felony offender.

Wagers has previous convictions in Knox County for second-degree robbery and theft by unlawful taking more than $300, and in Whitley County for first-degree wanton endangerment and first-degree criminal mischief.