Wrong-way driver pleads guilty in 2013 death of Raleigh couple

ablythe@newsobserver.comMay 5, 2014 

— Two families sat on opposite sides of a Wake County courtroom Monday afternoon, divided by the aisle between them but united in a desire to resolve a drunken-driving case that has both upended and entwined their lives.

In the two rows behind the prosecutors were the grown children and other family members of Ormond and Gaynell Bailey, an older couple fatally injured in a car wreck a year ago on St. Patrick’s Day.

Sitting three rows deep behind defense attorney Matthew Faucette were family and friends of Ray Norman Rouse IV, the 35-year-old man accused of getting behind the wheel of his 2008 Kia Spectra in an impaired state and driving in the wrong direction along Wade Avenue after a St. Patrick’s Day brunch.

As all watched, Rouse pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of driving while impaired as part of a plea agreement developed over the past year with the input of the Bailey family.

Rouse, who uses a wheelchair because of injuries from the collision, received a 10- to 13-year prison sentence as part of the arrangement.

Judge Donald Stephens, Wake County’s chief resident Superior Court Judge, told the defense attorney that had it not been for the Bailey family’s insistence, he would have rejected the plea deal.

“Do I think it’s a fair resolution? Who’s to say what’s fair,” Stephens said from the bench as he looked at the grown children of the Baileys. “I commend you for the incredible way you’re handling this.”

Footage shows drinking

William W. Plyler, a Raleigh attorney representing the Bailey family, said they supported the plea because they wanted closure that a trial and any appeals might delay. Plyler read a letter from the Baileys’ daughter, Donna B. Lewis, and their son, Jackie G. Bailey.

“We loved our parents very much, as did all members of our family,” they stated in the letter. “They were great people and role models for everyone who was lucky enough to know them. This has been very difficult for our entire family. We know it also has been difficult for Mr. Rouse and his family. We appreciate Mr. Rouse pleading guilty so we do not have to endure trial.”

Rouse, according to facts that would have come out at a trial, was driving his red Kia west in the eastbound lanes of Wade Avenue about 1:18 p.m. March 17, 2013, after a holiday brunch at Solas, a restaurant, bar and nightclub on south Glenwood Avenue.

Footage from Solas cameras shows Rouse drinking two mimosas, a mix of champagne and orange juice, between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. He ordered two other drinks, according to the footage, but it was unclear whether either drink contained alcohol.

Witnesses saw Rouse turn left from West Street onto Wade Avenue, and several drivers swerved to avoid a collision.

The Baileys – Ormond, 83, and Gaynell, 79 – had gone to an early church service at New Hope Baptist Church, stopped for lunch and were on their way home to watch the final matchup of the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament on TV.

Just west of Filmore Street, the Kia crashed head on into the 2002 Gran Marquis that Ormond Bailey was driving. Investigators determined that Rouse was traveling at a speed of 40 to 45 miles per hour in a 35-mph zone.

Investigators could find no skid marks from the Kia or other evidence that Rouse had applied brakes.

The couple, who moved to Raleigh from Franklin County when they were in their 20s, were rushed to WakeMed but did not survive the afternoon.

Rouse was taken to WakeMed, too, where the nurses and physicians treating him detected an odor of alcohol.

Nearly three times legal limit

Waller said tests done at the hospital showed his blood-alcohol content to be 0.21 – nearly three times the 0.08 for which a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law.

Raleigh police did tests, too, and his blood-alcohol content was 0.17. The tests also showed that Rouse had generic Xanax and a second anxiety medication in his system.

His blood sugar also was very high, evidence of the diabetes afflicting him since his childhood.

Faucette held up a stack of medical records nearly 5 inches thick as he talked with the judge during the sentencing phase of the hearing.

“My job is to advocate for the defendant in this case,” Faucette said.

In trying to figure out what happened, Faucette said he had discovered “two truths.”

One was the case laid out by Wake County Assistant District Attorneys Jeff Cruden and Jason Waller, showing that Rouse had imbibed that day and driven a short time afterward.

Rouse was convicted of DWI in Durham County in 2002. He had been charged two more times with DWI in recent years, but those cases had been dismissed.

In a 2012 interview with an ABC11 TV reporter, Rouse was taped calling St. Patrick’s Day “a beer drinking day” as he advocated for using designated drivers.

But Faucette contended that Rouse could also have been in an altered state because his blood sugar was so high, and he suggested that no swerve marks or skid marks from the Kia could bolster that theory.

Rouse did not speak at the hearing when offered a chance, nor did his family say anything outside the courtroom.

Faucette stopped to elaborate on how the two sides had negotiated the plea.

“Both sides of this are people of faith,” Faucette said.

Initially, the Baileys were very angry and not interested in a plea, Faucette said.

But Cruden, a prosecutor who has tried many cases involving people accused of driving while impaired and felony death by vehicle, explained what might happen at trial to the defense team and the family of the victims.

“He is experienced in these murder cases,” Faucette said of conversations with Cruden, “and he was adamant that he would get an active sentence.”

Over the course of a year, both sides moved closer together.

In exchange for the pleas to second-degree murder and driving while impaired and the 10 years minimum in prison, prosecutors agreed to drop two earlier charges of felony death by motor vehicle.

Before the hearing, Rouse’s father and stepmother approached the Bailey family and apologized. They said they had prayed many times for the family over the year.

Stephens complimented the Baileys several times during the hearing for being conciliators.

“I commend them on their strength to restrain their rage,” Stephens said.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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