Union County man killed, wife injured in home robbery; 2 are detained

Officials investigate the scene of a home invasion and murder on Friday just north of Lake Butler. William Couch, 69, was killed, and his wife, Connie Sue Couch, 39, was injured in the morning attack.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 2:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 2:19 p.m.

LAKE BUTLER — A 69-year-old Union County man died and his 39-year-old wife was injured early Friday during a home-invasion robbery near Lake Butler that might have stemmed from a driveway paving job.

Much of the incident played out while the couple's 3-year-old daughter was nearby, and a travel trailer outside the home was set afire.

Officials said two people have been detained on probable cause for other crimes and might be charged in connection with the fatal robbery. At least one of the people detained has a criminal record and is on probation, officials said. Authorities plan to release the suspects' names if they are charged in the robbery.

"We haven't had a murder here in the last three or four years — it's very unusual, and we were on it very quick. We think we'll have a good resolution to it," Sheriff Jerry Whitehead said at the scene Friday afternoon. "It's a terrible tragedy. I personally don't understand it. Rob them and leave — why go to the extreme?"

The crimes were reported to the Union County Sheriff's Office at 8:33 a.m. Friday at the Northeast 118th Street home of William and Connie Sue Couch. The Couches shared the home with their daughter and Connie Sue Couch's 13-year-old son, sheriff's officials said.

Connie Sue Couch was assaulted during the incident, but the toddler was not harmed, Union Sheriff's Maj. Garry Seay said.

William Couch was beaten with a handgun and possibly stabbed several times, authorities said.

He was taken to Shands at the University of Florida and died in surgery.

Seay said deputies on Thursday night went to the mobile home on a limerock road just off State Road 121 about three miles north of Lake Butler regarding a dispute over a bill Couch had received for a driveway paving job. The crew from a Union County paving contractor was supposed to meet with Couch on Friday to settle on a solution to complete the job, Seay said.

"Before they get there, the house is entered by two to three individuals. They tied the victims up in the house, robbed them, beat (Couch) with a handgun and started taking things from the house," Seay said. "They led them to the camper and held them hostage there, finished beating him, took them outside and set the camper on fire."

Connie Sue Couch had minor injuries. Authorities said they believe she was not assaulted as badly as her husband because of the presence of their daughter.

The couple's Chevrolet Equinox was stolen and later found burned near a cemetery in Bradford County. The house was ransacked and valuables taken.

Officials said Connie Sue Couch told authorities one of the men was a member of the paving crew. She was the person who initially called 911.

"We understand that she slipped out some kind of way and went to the neighbor's house and called," Seay said. "I've been doing this job a long time, and the way this thing was set up, the way it came about — it was just a brutal crime."

Several agencies, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Bradford County Sheriff's Office, were assisting in the investigation.

The next-door neighbor of the Couches did not want to comment on the matter other than to say the family seemed nice and friendly.

There are only a few homes in the area. The Couches' property has a small pasture, in which three horses were grazing Friday. A horse trailer also was seen on the property.

Whitehead said Couch had retired from a career with General Motors in Kentucky or Ohio before moving to Union County. Officials said Connie Sue Couch did not work.

Suspects could be charged in the crimes soon, Whitehead added.

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