By Adrienne Fawcett
On Sept. 13, Lake County authorities arrested and charged a Highland Park teenager with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence of an intoxicating compound. The teen, 18-year-old Carly Rousso, is accused of driving into Modesto Santos and her three children as they walked along a Central Avenue sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon on Labor Day, killing five-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento and injuring her mother and brothers.
After the incident, Ms. Rousso submitted to blood testing, and the blood samples were sent to the Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory, according to Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Kenneth LaRue. The intoxicating compound found in Ms. Rousso’s blood sample was difluoroethane, a chemical found in a cleaning product that’s used to clean computers and other electronics.
Upon examination of Ms. Rousso’s car, investigators found a commercial cleaning product. The product was tested by the crime lab, and the analysis detected the compound difluoroethane, according to a press release by Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller.
Here is a link to the most recent Chicago Tribune article about the Carly Rousso incident.
GazeboNews was unfamiliar with difluoroethane so we asked LEAD Executive Director Andy Duran for some background. What is it? How do people ingest it? What does it do? Do kids in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Knollwood use it?
“Without question, it is a problem here as well,” said Mr. Duran.
He said difluoroethane is a used as an inhalant, despite manufacturer labels that warn of misuse of the product. The process of inhalant abuse is called “huffing.”
“Inhalant abuse (or ‘huffing’) is the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors to attain a mental ‘high’ or euphoric effect. A wide variety of substances, including many common household products, can be easily accessed and abused,” said Mr. Duran.
According to the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the primary population of inhalant abusers is the 12 to 17 age group, followed by the 18 to 25 year old population. In 2000, 18% of eighth graders nationwide admitted having used inhalants (huffing) at least once in their lifetime. LEAD will provide more recent—and local—data on inhalant abuse in the next few weeks, when it releases the results of the 2012 Illinois Youth Survey (GazeboNews will report the results when they’re available).
For more information on huffing, visit LEAD’s website page about inhalant abuse.
When asked about difluoroethane, Assistant State’s Attorney LaRue told GazeboNews that it’s “not specifically cited in the Use of Intoxicating Compounds Act but does qualify as an intoxicating compound under the catch-all language.” He also said difluoroethane is a non-naturally occurring compound that has no therapeutic use.
Media reports have raised questions about why police initially charged Ms. Rousso with misdemeanor driving under the influence of an intoxicating compound. Mr. LaRue told GazeboNews in an email:
“Carly did not receive preferential treatment. The police and prosecutors cannot use guess or conjecture to charge a person with a crime. Doing so prematurely could result in civil liability costing Lake County tax payers. This case was an anomaly due to the difluoroethane. The compound is not readily testable or detectible, as is true with alcohol.
“The only way to detect this in the blood is to send it to a lab to with the unique ability to test for this compound. Very few labs are able to detect this compound. Fortunately, the ISP crime lab has this capability. Even so, the ISP lab is backlogged up to three months.
“We were able to expedite the testing. Regardless, an investigation into an offense of this nature takes time. Investigators downloaded black box data, the car was inspected for mechanical issues, hospital records were obtained. We needed to ensure a crime occurred. For example, what if the car had a mechanical failure? What if the defendant had a seizure? It would have been irresponsible and unethical of us to charge the defendant before our investigation was completed,” said Mr. LaRue.
Here is more info on the crash from a press release issued by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office on Sept. 12:
“On Sept. 3, 2012 at 2:31 p.m., Highland Park police responded to a motor vehicle crash involving an automobile and four pedestrians. The Highland Park Police Department requested the aid of the Major Crash Assisatnce Team (MCAT) in the investigation of this incident. MCAT was established as a cooperative unit designed to assist municipal police deprtments in investigations such as this. Highalnd Park Police Department and MCAT worked diligently, expeditiousl, and around the clock to determine what had, in fact, occurred.
“The investigation revealed that Carly Rousso was driving her vehicle eastbound on Central Avenue when she veered across multiple lanes of traffic and left the roadway. She drove onto a sidewalk and struck Modesta and her three children. Jaclyn was transported to Evanston Hospital where she was later pronounced dead from injuries sustained from the accident. Modesta and her two sons were treated and eventually released from the hospital.
“Ms. Rousso submitted to blood testing at the hospital. The blood samples were sent to the Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory. A request was made to expedite testing as quickly and efficiently as possible. The car was thoroughly examined and an accident team reconstructed the events leading to Jaclyn’s death and her family’s injuries. the automobile’s crash data information was downloaded for analysis.
“Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory toxicology reports indicate that the compound Difluoroethane was detected in Ms. Rousso’s blood. Located in Ms. Rousso’s car was a commercial cleaningproduct. That product was also tested by the crime lab. That analysis also detected the compound Difluoroethane.”