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Teen charged in wreck that killed West Johnston High senior

A 17-year-old was charged in a Saturday wreck that killed a West Johnston High School senior who was a passenger in her car, state troopers said Sunday.

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SANFORD, N.C. — A 17-year-old was charged in a Saturday wreck that killed a West Johnston High School senior who was a passenger in her car, state troopers said Sunday.

Shantoya Howard was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle in connection with the wreck on White Oak Road that killed 17-year-old Ariel Hughes.

Howard was injured in the wreck and remained in good condition at WakeMed Sunday.

Troopers said that Howard was driving about 55 mph in a 45-mph zone around 4:30 a.m. when her vehicle ran off the road, struck a tree and caught on fire. In the wreck report, Howard said she swerved to avoid a deer, but troopers could not confirm that.

Hughes, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, died upon impact, troopers said.

“I knew it was true once I heard it on the phone. Most people have to see it to believe it but as a mom, you can feel it when she's finally gone,” Ariel's mother, Christina Hughes, said.

Hughes' uncle, Jacob Hughes Jr., said everyone is grateful for a man who lives near the wreck scene who rushed to help. He pulled Hughes out of the car before it caught on fire, so her parents at least got to see her body, Hughes Jr. said.

Hughes was on track to graduate next month and planned to attend a culinary institute in Charlotte, her uncle said. She was active at Christian Faith Baptist Church in Raleigh and worked at Buffalo Wild Wings on White Oak Road in Garner.

Hughes' parents also said their daughter was dedicated to volunteering. She spent time working at a homeless shelter on the weekends.

“When it's someone so close to your heart, you don't expect that, you don't believe it. I still don't want to believe it,” Ariel's friend, Bianca Vasquez, said.

Funeral arrangements for Hughes are pending. Her parents said they don't blame Howard for the crash.

“I told her (Howard) that we're praying for her and not to blame yourself,” Ariel's father, Greg Hughes, said.

Hughes' death brought to nine the number of local high schoolers who have died in traffic wrecks in less than two months.

Lee County High School junior Josh Britt, 17, died in a head-on collision on U.S. Highway 1 in Sanford late Friday. Troopers said the car that Britt crashed into was stopped in the northbound lanes facing south and had its lights off. The driver of the other vehicle, Anthony Boswell, 48, of Sanford, also died.

Wrecks also claimed the lives of West Johnston High School senior Christopher Paul Kosmos, 18, and junior Alissa Chenette, 16, on March 29; Western Harnett High School sophomore Elizabeth Ann Harris, 16, on April 19; Hoke County High School seniors Kaleb Valliant, 18, and Thadius Markle, 18, on April 24; South Johnston High School sophomore Jessee Ferrell, 16, on April 28; and Southern Nash High School junior Michael Turner Jr., 17, on May 1.

In the past four years, more than 680 teenagers have been killed in wrecks that the state Highway Patrol investigated.

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Beau Minnick, Reporter
Geof Levine, Photographer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor
Minnie Bridgers, Web Editor

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