North Carolina church mourns loss of pastor’s wife who died following crash


MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. – The congregation of a coastal North Carolina church is grieving the loss of its senior pastor’s wife, who died six days after her family’s car was struck by the driver of another vehicle who was seeking to elude police during a chase.

Suellen C. Leonard, 44, died on Saturday, March 9, as a result of injuries sustained in a crash that happened Sunday, March 3. Leonard is the wife of Nate Leonard, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Morehead City.

According to news releases issued by the town of Morehead City, Nate Leonard was driving his family’s 2020 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck and attempting to make a left turn out of shopping plaza a few minutes before 8 p.m. when his vehicle was hit on the driver’s side by a 2004 Jeep Cherokee being driven by Cody Andrew Schulz, 32, of Goldsboro.

Prior to the accident, Schulz had been seen driving erratically, and a Morehead City police officer attempted to make a traffic stop. Schulz did not stop, and a short pursuit ensued. Schulz struck the driver’s side mirror of another car and ran a red light before colliding with the Leonards’ vehicle while traveling at a high rate of speed. Both vehicles came to rest some distance from the intersection.

The Leonards and two of their three children all sustained serious injuries in the crash. Suellen Leonard was seated in the passenger side, and two of the Leonards’ three children were seated in the back seat of the truck’s double cab.

Schulz also sustained serious injuries in the crash. After being released from medical care on Wednesday, March 6, Schulz was arrested and taken into custody by the Morehead City Police Department. His first court appearance was Thursday, March 7.

Schulz has been charged with five felonies, five misdemeanors and four infractions. He remains in the Carteret County Jail on a $1 million bond for the combined charges.

Following Suellen Leonard’s death, local officials said the district attorney’s office is reviewing the case, and Schulz may face additional criminal charges.

Church leaders shared news of Suellen Leonard’s death with the congregation during morning worship services on Sunday, March 10. Deacon chairman Preston Garner read a statement that was posted to the family’s CaringBridge page at 9:50 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, that was attributed to Nate Leonard.

“While our hearts are broken, we are beyond grateful for all of your prayers and support,” the statement said in part. “We hope you will gather tomorrow morning at First Baptist MHC or at your local churches around the globe to worship the One who understands our sorrows. Our hope lies in Jesus, the One who has defeated death and the One who will come again and make all things new.”

The statement also said the Leonards’ two children injured in the crash had been released from the hospital.

A subsequent post made to the CaringBridge page indicated that Nate Leonard was set to be discharged from the hospital on Tuesday, March 11. 

Numerous expressions of sympathy, condolences and prayer for the Leonard family have been posted on social media and other online forums.

“Suellen lived daily in God’s truth, loving her family, church, and God’s people with a Christ-like gentleness,” Heather Lamp, a servant leader in First Baptist Morehead City’s women’s ministry, wrote as part of a tribute posted on Facebook. “Yet, she was always ready to help outsiders and do hard stuff.”

A memorial service honoring Suellen Leonard’s life is scheduled for Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m., at Glad Tidings Church in Morehead City. The family will receive friends following the service. Munden Funeral Home in Morehead City is serving the family.

GoFundMe page has also been established to assist with the Leonard family’s expenses. As of Tuesday, March 12, at noon, more than $53,000 had been contributed.