By Beth Lawrence
A Jackson County man has been indicted in connection with a wreck two years ago that resulted in the death of a Swain County woman.
The delay in charges in the July 15, 2019 wreck was due in part to the need to investigate the crash, N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Rocky Deitz said.
“An investigation can take however long an investigation takes,” he said. “There’s certain things that have to be done in order to make charges against people, and we don’t always at the scene of a collision have the luxury of being able to make a determination right there at that point.”
Johnnie Ray Arch, 48, of Sylva, was arrested after a true bill of indictment was returned against him by a grand jury for reckless driving, felony serious injury by motor vehicle and felony death by motor vehicle.
A grand jury found probable cause to bring charges against Arch for what they believed to be his part in the wreck.
According to the indictment, Arch was driving impaired at the time and responsible for the wreck that killed Hazel Shultz, 78, and seriously injured her passenger, Elizabeth McGaha, then 55, both of Bryson City.
The grand jury heard enough evidence to believe that Arch was driving “without due caution … and at a speed and in a manner so as to endanger persons and property.”
Arch and McGaha were taken to Harris Regional Hospital for treatment, and Shultz was taken by ambulance to Mission Hospital in Asheville.
Shultz died five days later on July 20. McGaha sustained “three splintered ribs” and damage to her spleen requiring surgery, according to the indictment.
The wreck occurred on North River Road on July 15, 2019. It was one of two that Arch was involved in that day.
According to accident reports, Arch was driving a 2007 Volkswagen westbound on North River Road when he allegedly lost control of the car in a curve and struck a 2008 Kia driven by Shultz.
The report estimates Arch’s speed prior to the crash was 55 mph and Shultz’s speed was 30 mph. That section of North River Road is a 45 mph zone.
Shortly before the crash that claimed Shultz’s life, Arch was allegedly involved in a hit and run.
Arch was traveling westbound on South River Road in a no-passing zone when he attempted to pass a 2017 Toyota driven by Felicia Duncum of Fernandina Beach, Florida. He purportedly sideswiped Duncum’s car while attempting to pass and did not stop.
The report estimates Arch was traveling at 50 mph in a 25 mph zone when he sideswiped Duncum.
Approximately 2.5 miles down the road he struck Shultz’s car.
“It was minutes apart,” Deitz said. “Once we arrived on the scene of what would have been the second collision, we were notified of the first collision that had taken place.”
Serious injury by motor vehicle is a Class F felony and carries a punishment of up to 59 months in prison and driver’s license revocation for up to four years. Felony death by motor vehicle is a Class D felony with a penalty of 38 to 160 months in prison and considerable fines.
Arch was in the Jackson County Detention Center under a $36,500 secured bond as of Wednesday..
He has been arrested multiple times going back to at least 2015, when the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office charged him with injury to real property, and breaking and entering – forcible.