A Wilmington mother, recently indicted on felony charges in a crash on River Road that killed her 13-month-old son and seriously injured her toddler, made her first appearance in New Hanover County Superior Court Tuesday.
Melissa Ann Henderson, 28, appeared before Superior Court Judge Ebern T. Watson with bandages still wrapped around her right arm. She tearfully addressed the judge with her newly appointed attorney, Chief Public Defender Jennifer Harjo, who is now representing her in both civil and criminal matters related to the case.
Henderson was indicted Monday by a New Hanover County grand jury on charges of involuntary manslaughter, felony death by vehicle, speeding, felony injury by vehicle, felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury, felony child abuse inflicting serious physical injury, and simple possession of a schedule IV controlled substance.
The charges stem from a single-vehicle wreck on River Road near Carolina Beach at about 9 a.m. on April 24. Henderson was driving a white SUV when she ran off the road near Snow’s Cut Park and crashed into a tree. The SUV burst into flames with Henderson and her children – 13-month-old James Cecil Andrews III and her 2-year-old daughter – still inside.
Several good Samaritans were able to pull Henderson and her daughter out of the burning vehicle. Among them was Jay Muxworthy, co-owner of the popular local restaurant franchise Flaming Amy’s, who sustained burns when he tried to rescue Henderson and her children from the SUV. The good Samaritans were not able to save Henderson’s son James, who was seated behind the driver’s seat.
Henderson was treated at the burn center at the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill. The current condition of her daughter is unknown. Muxworthy was also taken to Chapel Hill to be treated. He was the only person not directly involved in the accident who was injured.
According to the indictments, Henderson is charged in the death of her son while engaged in the offense of impaired driving, which was the proximate cause in the child’s death. The indictment states burns and smoke inhalation led to her son’s death.
An indictment also states Henderson’s impaired driving caused her daughter’s concussion suffered during the crash. An indictment charging her with simple possession of a schedule IV controlled substance states Henderson possessed Alprazolam, a sedative also known as Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety or a panic disorder. She was also indicted for speeding on River Road in excess of 15 mph over the posted speed limit.
According to the search warrant issued on April 26, items seized in a search of Henderson’s SUV included a silver metal case containing a torn clear plastic bag with seven green tablets that appeared to have prescription drug markings, a melted plastic bottle with a lid, a silver spoon and a clear plastic container holding several razor blades.
On Monday, Henderson was booked at the New Hanover County Jail under a $500,000 secured bond. In court Tuesday, Harjo requested the judge to reconsider the conditions of her bond. Watson said the bond will be discussed in court some time later this week.