Virginia's top mental health official was involved in a three-car wreck in Augusta County on Wednesday that killed an 18-year-old Staunton woman when his car hit hers head-on while he was in the left lane of a two-lane road, according to state police.
Dr. S. Hughes Melton, 52, the commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, suffered serious, potentially life-threatening injuries in the crash. He was driving a 2018 Hyundai Tuscon that bumped a car in front of him on State Route 254 and then pulled into a passing lane, where state police said it collided head-on with a 2003 Toyota Solara driven by Hailey Green, 18, of Staunton.
Green was pronounced dead at the scene and Melton was transported to the University of Virginia hospital with life-threatening injuries, State Police Sgt. C.J. Aikens said on Thursday.
UVA Medical Center confirmed that Melton is in critical condition.
Maria Reppas, spokeswoman at the state behavioral health department, said the staff "is devastated to hear the news of the car accident, and we express our deepest sympathies to Ms. Green’s family and loved ones."
"We are also extremely concerned about Dr. Melton," Reppas said. "He is in very capable hands at the University of Virginia Medical Center. They will provide all necessary tests and medical care to treat him, and we pray for a full recovery."
Aikens, who said he was unaware of Melton's state position, said police are "fairly certain" that Melton was experiencing an unspecified medical issue at the time of the accident. The accident occurred just before 1 p.m. on Wednesday on state Route 254 between Staunton and Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley.
No charges have been filed, he said. "We're still investigating."
The incident began when Melton's vehicle bumped a 2018 Subaru Crosstrek that he had been following closely in the eastbound lane of Route 254 near Hermitage. The driver of the Subaru, Jean Scheeren, 55, of Waynesboro, was not injured and her car sustained minor damage, Aikens said.
Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Melton as behavioral health commissioner almost 16 months ago, as Virginia continues to grapple with changes to its troubled mental health system. Melton replaced Dr. Jack Barber, a psychiatrist and longtime state mental health official who had served as acting commissioner for three years.
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said, "This is a tragic situation, and we are praying for all involved."
Melton previously had served as chief deputy commissioner in the Virginia Department of Health, after a career as a family practitioner and addiction expert from Southwest Virginia.
He is a former U.S. Army doctor who won a national award as “family practitioner of the year” in 2011 for his practice in Lebanon, the seat of Russell County.