Trial date set for man charged in death of Roan Mtn. Woman

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   A July trial date has been set in the case against a man charged in the death of a Roan Mountain woman after the car he was driving collided with hers in October, 2001.
   Richard Dale Hughes, 39, 103 Pritchard St., was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide in the death of Meloney S. Bowers, 33, 536 Teaberry Road. He will stand trial in Carter County Criminal Court on July 16.
   According to police reports on the accident, Hughes was traveling north on U.S. Highway 19E when he lost control of his vehicle, crossed the center line, then struck the car Bowers was driving nearly head-on. Both vehicles were destroyed in the accident.
   The accident occurred approximately one-half mile north of the North Carolina line near the intersection of U.S. Highway 19E and Bear Branch Road.
   Bowers was transported to the Johnson City Medical Center by Wings Air Rescue and was pronounced dead at that hospital shortly after her arrival, according to reports.
   Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Mark Musick responded to the accident and stated at that time that Hughes was being pursued by officers with the Avery County, N.C. Sheriff's Department when the accident occurred.
   At the time of the incident, Carter County Sheriff John Henson stated that Avery County Sheriff Edward Guinn and a detective from the Avery County Sheriff's Department were in pursuit of the vehicle that Hughes was driving.
   "I was talking with Sheriff Guinn, and he advised that the vehicle had run several vehicles off the road, and that's why they were trying hard to stop him," Henson told the Elizabethton Star at the time of the accident. "They were fixing to cut pursuit once they came into Tennessee, but they didn't have time."
   Hughes was taken into custody at the scene and treated at Sycamore Shoals Hospital for a leg injury before he was transported to the Carter County Jail.
   Musick said the crash was alcohol-related. According to court documents, Hughes has a history of alcohol related offenses, including four convictions for driving under the influence, three of which occurred within a four month period in 1992 and the fourth in March, 1999.
   The indictment, handed down by the Grand Jury that charged Hughes with aggravated vehicular homicide, states that he "did recklessly kill Meloney Bowers, while (he) was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant, and the said accident was a proximate result of intoxication."
   In 2002, the court ordered that Hughes be evaluated by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities to see if he was competent to stand trial. In a letter dated November 2002, officials from Lakeshore Mental Health Institute state that Hughes was "experiencing a mental deficit" at the time of the accident. "However, the team also determined that Mr. Hughes' mental deficit did not impair his ability to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness of his alleged behavior," the letter stated.
   In addition to concluding that Hughes was competent to stand trial, the evaluation team from Lakeshore Mental Health Institute also evaluated Hughes' level of alcohol use. "The team highly recommends that Mr. Hughes abstain from alcohol consumption in order to maintain his psychiatric stability," the letter said.