Springfield man avoids prison after failing terms of diversion

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By Calen McKinney


A Springfield man charged after a Taylor County crash left his passenger dead has been sentenced to probation instead of a prison time for failing the terms of his diversion.

Michael A. Barnett, 23, of 301 Hagan Lane, was indicted twice in 2008, with each of the indictments stemming from a September 2007 crash after which Aaron W. Couch of Springfield was pronounced dead.

A Taylor County grand jury first indicted Barnett in December 2008 on a charge of reckless homicide, a Class D felony punishable by as much as five years in prison.

Five months later, he was indicted again, this time on a charge of first-degree assault, a Class B felony punishable by as much as 20 years in prison.

In September 2009, the assault charge was dismissed in exchange for Barnett entering an Alford plea to the reckless homicide charge.

With an Alford plea, Barnett admits that the court has enough evidence to convict him, though he maintains his innocence. The court treats an Alford plea the same as a guilty plea.

At that time, Barnett was granted a five-year pretrial diversion and ordered to complete the Taylor County Drug Court program. If he failed the terms of his diversion, according to court records, he was to be sentenced to serve five years in prison. Barnett completed the drug court program in March 2011.

Taylor Circuit Court Judge Dan Kelly revoked Barnett's diversion earlier this month, after a motion was filed stating that Barnett had been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol last year.

According to court records, Barnett admitted that he had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at the time of the 2008 crash.

Records state Barnett's DUI conviction was in Washington County last November.

According to Washington County court records, as a result of Barnett's guilty plea to the DUI, his driver's license was suspended for 90 days and he was ordered to attend a 90-day alcohol and drug education program.

He was also ordered to pay $728 in fines and court costs and was sentenced to two years' probation.

During his first appearance in Taylor Circuit Court this month, Barnett admitted to violating the terms of his diversion, court records state, and Kelly ordered him to serve seven days in jail on various weekends.

Last Tuesday, Kelly sentenced Barnett to five years' probation and ordered him to serve 60 days in jail, should he violate any of the terms of his probation.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John Miller, the prosecutor in the case, nor Todd Spalding of Lebanon, who is representing Barnett, returned an email and phone call before press time to comment.

Records in Washington County list his address as 111 Mayes Ave. in Springfield.

The Crash

A Campbellsville Police report states that the crash in which Couch died occurred at about 1:54 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2007, on U.S. 68.

The report states that Barnett was driving a 2001 Infiniti I30. He lost control of the vehicle, dropped off the shoulder, overcorrected and overturned.

However, prosecutors said in 2009 that determining who was driving the vehicle could have been a major issue, if Barnett's case had gone to trial.

Barnett and his three passengers, Couch, Phillip T. McIlvoy and Anthony M. Fields, all of Springfield, were ejected from the car.

Couch was airlifted by AirEvac Life Team to University of Louisville Hospital and died the next morning. Barnett, Fields and McIlvoy were treated at various hospitals for their injuries and later released.

According to the police report, speed and alcohol appeared to be contributing factors in the collision. Court records state that Barnett admitted he had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana before the crash.

Just before the crash, according to court records, former Campbellsville Police Officer Norman Simpson was traveling west on U.S. 68 when he met two vehicles traveling at a high rate of speed. Simpson turned to follow and pull the vehicles over, though he lost sight of the vehicles as he turned around.

A short time later, Simpson came upon the crash. The second car had already fled the scene. Police said in 2007 that they weren't sure if the second vehicle was involved in the crash.