Roan Mountain woman killed when struck by fleeing driver

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   A Roan Mountain mother of three was killed about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on U.S. Highway 19E by a Roan Mountain man who was being pursued by Avery County authorities after he reportedly ran several vehicles off the road in the Elk Park area.
   The accident happened about 1/2 mile north of the North Carolina state line.
   According to Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Mark Musick, Richard D. "Fonzi" Hughes, 37, 103 Pritchard St., Roan Mountain, was traveling north on Highway 19E in a 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix when he crossed into the southbound lane and struck a 1993 Ford Mustang operated by Meloney S. Bowers, 33, 536 Teaberry Road, Roan Mountain, almost head-on. Both vehicles were destroyed in the accident.
   Bowers was airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center Hospital by Wings Air Rescue and pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
   "Our preliminary investigation shows that he (Hughes) was being pursued by the Avery County Sheriff's Department," Musick said.
   According to Carter County Sheriff John Henson, Avery County Sheriff Edward Guinn and a detective were in pursuit of the vehicle.
   "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 so hard to stop him. They were fixing to cut pursuit once they came into Tennessee but they didn't have time.
   "He lost control and crossed the center line over into the southbound lane of traffic near Bear Branch intersection," Henson said.
   Traffic was stalled approximately three miles in each direction for about 2-1/2 hours while Tennessee Highway Patrol's Critical Incident Response Team worked to reconstruct the accident. Joe Morrell with Tennessee Department of Transportation, members of Roan Mountain Volunteer Fire Department and Elk Park (N.C.) Fire Department assisted with traffic control.
   Hughes was placed under arrest at the scene, then transported to Sycamore Shoals Hospital by Carter County Rescue Squad, where he was treated for a leg injury before being booked into Carter County Jail.
   Musick said Hughes is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and second-offense driving on revoked license. The accident was alcohol-related, he said.
   Sheriff Henson said Hughes also is expected to face charges by Avery County authorities.
   "It's very sad that these things have to end up this way and some innocent person that's got nothing involved usually winds up getting hurt. In this case that was a true factor," Henson said.
   "There was no wrong done, in my opinion, by the law enforcement officers. They did everything they could to avoid this happening," the sheriff said.
   Trooper Musick expressed sympathy for the Bowers family.
   "Cancel Christmas for them. She was a mother of three," he said.
   Travel on Highway 19E near the North Carolina line is expected to be restricted today while THP's Critical Incident Response Team, one of four teams statewide, continues its investigation, Musick said.
   "They have all kinds of technical training in photography and mapping to assist us in this type of situation," he said.