Prosecutor Says Rousso May Have Fainted Before Driving into Family
The Lake County State's Attorney's Office says 18-year-old Carly Rousso was high off of "canned air," and may have passed out behind the wheel before crashing into a mother and her three children, killing a 5-year-old girl.
Here's how Ken LaRue, the Lake County State's Attorney's Traffic Division chief, envisions what happened on Central Avenue on Labor Day:
Eighteen-year-old Carly Rousso was driving a Lexus coupe eastbound in Highland Park. Either before she started driving or once she was underway, she grabbed the canister of dusting spray she'd brought along, put it to her nose, pushed down the nozzle and inhaled.
She was instantly filled with a euphoric sensation brought on by a chemical compound in the spray called difluoroethane. Commonly referred to as "huffing," inhaling this compound and others like it causes asyphyxiation that users get high from.
"At some point," LaRue said, "she passed out."
She didn't stop the car as it drifted, first across the lanes going in the opposite the direction. Then, towards the sidewalk by Sunset Foods, where a Highland Park mother was walking with her three young children.
'Heavier than air'
That sequence of events is what LaRue believes might what have happened when Rousso drove into Modesta Sacramento and her three children, killing 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento.
"This substance is heavier than air," LaRue said on Wednesday about difluoroethane. "It pushes the air out of your lungs and you just pass out."
Rousso was charged Wednesday with one count of reckless homicide and four counts of aggravated driving under the influence of an intoxicating compound, according to the Lake County State's Attorney's office. She surrendered herself before Judge Raymond Collins Wednesday morning. Hours later, her father posted her $500,00 bond, paying $45,000 in cash (he'd already paid $5,000 towards her original $50,000 bond the day before).
She was released at 4:32 p.m. Wednesday.
A wait for charges
LaRue explained that it took longer to charge Rousso than it typically does to charge drivers with DUIs because of the uniqueness of the intoxicating compound.
"Most cases … we charge them right away," LaRue said. "This case, there was no alcohol, no cocaine, no cannabis. That's why it took so long."
It usually takes three months just to test blood for difluoroethane, LaRue said, because many labs in the state lack the equipment necessary to test for it. It also disappears out of the bloodstream after 14 days, which means if Rousso hadn't been blood tested for two weeks after the crash the compound would not have been found at all.
"It's an unusual case," LaRue said.
While awating toxicology results, investigators examined the Lexus that Rousso was driving to make sure no mechanical problems could have been responsible for the collision.
"We needed to make sure the car was in perfect operating order, and it was," LaRue said.
The investigation was a collaborative effort by the Highland Park Police Department and the Major Crash Assistance Team (MCAT), a cooperative unit that comprises specially trained police officers from throughout Lake County. Rousso was cited with a misdemeanor DUI the day of the crash so that blood and urine samples could be obtained.
The chemical compound found in her system was also listed as an ingredient in in the empty canister of dusting spray found in the Lexus, according to LaRue.
"We have it in her blood," LaRue said, "and we have it correlating with the can."
An extremely addictive asphyxiant
Sometimes referred to as "canned air," difluoroethane is an asphyxiant that can diminish judgment and cognitive functioning, according to Family Service Executive Director Paul Dean. He's treated substance abusers at Family Service, a counseling agency based in Highland Park. The organization has already assigned counselors to both the Rousso and Sacramento families.
"They are extremely addictive," Dean said about "canned air" compounds, which can be found in hundreds of household products.
Similar to methamphetamine, "canned air" is inhaled for its euphoric effect, but can also cause extreme anxiety, hallucinations, even cardiac arrhythmia.
"The longer you use it for, the worse it gets," Dean said.
Someone addicted to "canned air" typically starts with introductory drugs like marijuana, according to Dean. A Chicago Tribune story published Wednesday reported that Rousso at one point participated in a rehab program after she was cited for marijuana possession.
"And then they move to something like this," Dean said.
Bond conditions include no driving, random drug tests
Rousso's bond conditions include a curfew from 9 p.m. till 7 a.m., no driving and no illegal substances, according to Deputy Police Chief Dave Schwarz.
If she's found guilty of aggravated DUI, the statute requires that she serve 85 percent of her sentence, which could be as many as 14 years in prison.
"Unless you are able to show extraordinary circumstances," LaRue said about people found guilty of aggravated DUI, "you're doing prison time."
There are six factors that can be used to charge someone with an aggravated DUI, LaRue explained. Rousso was charged with four of those six, according to the felony warrant obtained by Patch. She was also charged with reckless homicide, which can lead to probation or up to five years in prison if there's a conviction.
"We have to charge every possible charge at the beginning," LaRue said. "Everything that she should be charged with under the statute she's charged with."
Jaclyn is mourned
Jaclyn's funeral service was held Tuesday in Highwood. About a hundered people attended the funeral mass, including Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, City Manager David Knapp and Deputy Police Chief Dave Schwarz.
During the bilingual service at Saint James Parish in Highwood, Rev. Thomas Baldonieri called Jaclyn "a joyful child" who enjoyed dressing in pink, like a princess.
"Jaclyn was born and received into loving hands and hearts," Baldonieri said. "Even now, we see just how many people are touched by Jaclyn's life and tragic death, even those who never met her."
Rousso's next court date is on Oct. 9 at 10:30 a.m.