A Cleveland County man with a long criminal record and a history of speeding charges has been charged with murder after a street-racing crash killed a 6-year-old boy in Gaston County last month.
On the night of June 26, 46-year-old Donnie Ray Cobb was driving at about 100 mph on U.S. 74 when his Audi collided with another car and crossed a grass median into oncoming traffic, a N.C. Highway Patrol crash report says. Cobb’s car crashed head on with a vehicle, killing Liam Lagunas three weeks shy of his seventh birthday.
Cobb has a history of speeding charges as well as criminal offenses ranging from DWI to felony larceny and breaking and entering, The Charlotte Observer learned Friday. All but one of six prior speeding charges were dismissed or reduced. One speeding charge, filed against him in May, is pending.
“It’s kind of a testament that if you’ve been pushing that speed limit, it will catch up with you,” Highway Patrol Trooper Ray Pierce said.
A recent investigation by the Charlotte Observer and News & Observer in Raleigh found that extreme speeding has become rampant on many North Carolina roads, and that the consequences can be deadly. Despite that, North Carolina courts do not punish speeding aggressively.
When people are charged with driving 20 mph or more over the speed limit, nearly 92% get breaks in the courts that allow them to avoid the full penalties, the investigation found. Over the past five years, more than 75 drivers who had extreme-speeding charges reduced or dismissed later became involved in fatal crashes.
Cobb was charged late Thursday night with second-degree murder, reckless driving, speed competition, driving while impaired and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. A blood test showed he was impaired by a substance other than alcohol, but investigators haven’t disclosed what it was, Pierce said.
Cobb was recently released from the hospital and is now in the Gaston County jail.
Authorities expect to file charges against the other driver who was racing Cobb, Pierce said, but investigators have not yet determined what those charges will be. Cobb’s car collided with that driver’s car before crossing the median, according to the crash report.
“We’re trying to determine who collided with who prior to the second impact,” Pierce said.
At the time of the crash, Lagunas was properly restrained in the back seat of a car, authorities say. His father, who was injured, was driving.
“The father was doing everything he should have done,” Pierce said.
In comments that accompanied his obituary, family members described Lagunas as a warm and loving boy.
“He would always ask how our friends were doing because he genuinely cared so much,” his mother, Brandi. “He would cover me up with a blanket when I was cold. When I was sick, he would make sure I ate. He was my caretaker as much as I was his.”