Local News

Man Charged In Fatal Lee County Accident Remains In Jail

Posted October 30, 2006 4:10 a.m. EST

— A funeral was held Monday for one of the people killed in an accident in Sanford, the same day that the man accused of drunken driving in the incident appeared in court.

Investigators said Pastor Rios Sanchez, 55, of Sanford, caused the wreck Friday that killed a brother and sister and their friend.

Meg Hughes, 22, of Summerville, S.C., and Jennifer Carter, 18, of Jacksonville, N.C., had driven to Sanford to pick up Hughes' stepbrother, Ben Leonard, 16, who lived in a residential community there for at-risk youths.

The trio was returning to Raleigh when a 1999 Dodge Intrepid crossed the center line on N.C. Highway 42 about five miles east of Sanford and collided head-on with Hughes' 1990 Toyota Corolla station wagon, authorities said. Hughes and Carter were pronounced dead at the scene, and Leonard died during surgery at Central Carolina Hospital, authorities said.

Sanchez has been charged with driving while impaired and three counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the wreck, authorities said. He was treated for a broken arm at Central Carolina Hospital and released.

Sanchez is being held in the Lee County Jail on a $75,000 bond. On Monday, a judge questioned whether the bond was too low, considering what happened. Sanchez's attorney argued the crash was an accident, not a crime.

Last year, Sanchez pleaded guilty to driving without a license. He is due back in court Nov. 15.

On Sunday, the Grace Community Church at N.C. State held an open-microphone forum to remember the three victims, all of whom were members.

"They left such an impact on each of our lives," friend Cindi Miller said.

Hughes had moved to Raleigh in March to be with her sister.

"She's my best friend," Andi Hughes said. "Our faith was the most important thing to us, and when we could sit there and talk about what God was doing in our lives and how God worked in others' lives, those were the times I remember the most.

"Jennifer was a freshman Meg was reaching out to, just hanging out and being really good friends with," Hughes said.

Leonard would visit his sisters in Raleigh every other weekend and would attend church with them.

"We really felt like he was part of the family of the church, that pretty much he had 150 brothers and sisters," said Ross Thomas, youth leader at Grace Community Church. "He treated us that way; we treated him like that."

Church members said the forum brought them closer together and helped them recover from their loss.

"There is nothing else that gives me more peace about it than the fact they are with God," Andi Hughes said.

A memorial service for Hughes and Leonard is scheduled for Tuesday at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church in Raleigh. A memorial service for Carter will be held Monday in Jacksonville.