Morgan LeAnn Hughes

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College friends of Morgan LeAnne Hughes say she had a dream come true last month.

She went with a few friends to see her idol, Kelly Clarkson, perform in Charlotte in September and while there, Hughes got to meet the singer.

"She was the happiest girl in the world that night," said her friend and Winthrop alumna Autumn Mathis.

The same friends who saw her at her happiest remembered Hughes on Monday as the "most kind-hearted person" they knew after learning that their friend died in a car crash on Sunday night.

Two other Winthrop students were also injured in the crash on Interstate 20 in Kershaw County.

Christian McBee, a senior early childhood education major from Conway, and Caitlin Livingston, a senior special education major from Myrtle Beach, were injured. They were taken to Palmetto Health Richland Hospital in Columbia.

Their conditions were not immediately available, but Livingston is expected to be released soon while McBee is expected to remain in the hospital, according to a statement from Winthrop University.

"Our campus is truly lessened by Morgan's passing," said Frank Ardaiolo, Winthrop's vice president for student life. "Please join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to Morgan's family as we also pray for a quick and full recovery for Christian and Caitlin."

3 vehicles involved

The three roommates were on their way back to campus when the collision occurred around 8 p.m. Sunday on Interstate 20 outside Camden, said Lance Cpl. Brent Kelly with the S.C. Highway Patrol.

Hughes was riding in the front passenger seat of a 2005 Suzuki, Kelly said. Hughes and the driver were wearing seat belts. The Highway Patrol did not say who was driving.

Their vehicle was struck in the rear by a 2006 Mercedes sport utility vehicle driven by an 18-year-old man from Sewell, N.J., who was taken by EMS to the Columbia hospital, Kelly said. His condition was not available, but he was wearing a seat belt.

The Suzuki and another vehicle, a 2009 Honda SUV driven by a 16-year-old from Leesville, were slowing for traffic as they traveled west on I-20, Kelly said. The Mercedes driven by the New Jersey man struck the Suzuki in the rear, which caused it to turn over into the median and hit the cable barrier.

The Mercedes then hit the Honda driven by the 16-year-old, who was wearing a seat belt and was not hurt, Kelly said. There was a passenger in the Honda, but that person was not hurt and wore a seat belt.

Intern at Chester High

Hughes, 21, of Conway was a senior majoring in special education. She was treasurer of Winthrop's Quidditch team and was an intern at Chester High School.

Besides being a good student and an active community member, Hughes was a friend always ready to lend an ear, said Jeannae Richardson, a Winthrop alumna.

"She got me when nobody else did," Richardson said. "When nobody else would understand, she did."

Hughes had plans to go to China next year and teach English to children, her friend said.

She was accepted for the teaching abroad position and planned to leave after graduation from Winthrop in May 2013. Friends and family members were helping her raise money for the trip.

"Everyone was being so supportive," Richardson said. "And it's no surprise because she was amazing."

The two became friends, Richardson said, when Hughes was a freshman at Winthrop and Richardson led a class of new students as a peer mentor.

"I don't know anyone who didn't love her," Richardson said. "And she loved Winthrop."

On Winthrop's official Facebook page Monday, a post sent condolences to friends and family and stated, "Morgan Hughes, forever an Eagle."

Traci Piercey, a friend and a Winthrop alumna, said some of her favorite memories are returning to the campus to hang out with McBee and Hughes.

"I just wanted it to be known, by those not fortunate enough to have known (Hughes), that she was truly the most kind-hearted person I've met," Piercey said.

"She was always there for me, even when I felt like she didn't have to be. She was just one of those people. She'd straight up give you the shirt off her back, no questions asked. And I think that's what our world is missing – more people like Morgan."

- (Rock Hill) Herald
Published in Charlotte Observer on Oct. 30, 2012
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