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 , 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 .

"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 , 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 ().

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 and the Major Crash Assistance Team (MCAT), a cooperative unit that comprises specially trained police officers from throughout Lake County. Rousso 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 offered free counseling 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 . About a hundered people attended the funeral mass, including , , District 112 Superintendent David Behlow, Police Chief Paul Shafer and .

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.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that counselors had already been assigned to both the Rousso and Sacramento families. Patch apologizes for the error.

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David Greenberg October 06, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Or conversely it could show a teen engaging in some lighthearted tomfoolery... Pretending to be a beach model, or flipping someone the bird... Who knows? Ms. Russo and perhaps the photographer. So unless you were the photographer, or Ms. Russo told you what she had in mind when those photos were taken, how do you know? Who are you to judge?
Jaycee October 30, 2012 at 09:26 AM
All I have to say is I think it's RIDICULOUS that Carly STILL hasn't been put in jail. Police say they have pictures and even a video of the accident. YES, it was accident... Accidents happen but everybody needs to be held responsible for their actions. Rousso has a lot of issues according to the reports that have been reased and I think
Jaycee October 30, 2012 at 09:27 AM
it's safe to say we ALL have issues that doesnt make any of this Ok.. does anybody honestly think that murderers, alcoholics, drug addicts, ect. are they way they are because they want to?? NO, im pretty sure they all have a troubled past just like rousso but its no excuse to get away with anything.. i just feel like this has a lot to do with money And what I don't understand is if her parents knew all along about all her problems why not use the 50,000 dollars they used to bail her out to get her the help she REALLY needed!!!???!?!? I know the mother of Jaclyn santos personally.. And it kills me to see that their lives have been completely turned around.. She doesn't smile the way she did before and has those moments where you know all she's doing is thinking of her precious little angel. That family will NEVER be the same..
Jaycee October 30, 2012 at 09:28 AM
And yes, the rousso family will never be the same either I understand that.. I don't wish bad upon anybody all I want is for justice to be served. This girl should of been locked up already. I know her parents love her and are doing anything and everything possible to protect their daughter but pleading not guilty when you ran over and killed a 5 year old CHILD.. Smh! I really wish rousso would just step up and take responsibility for her actions.. But if she's not gonna do it I really hope the judge makes the right decision. R.I.P. Jaclyn santos.. You have touched many people in different ways and you will never be forgotten!! My deepest sorry for the rousso parents too because they're about to lose their daughter. Definitely something no parent should ever have to do.. But it's easier to say see you later than goodbye forever!!
Lou October 30, 2012 at 11:20 AM
The tragedy on Central Avenue is repeated daily in our country by those who believe driving does not require full attention and care while operating a moving multi-ton vehicle capable of speeds of 100mph on public roads. Forget the legal limit for alcohol for a minute, most drivers' abilities are markedly reduced at just half of the legal limit. Ever notice at the outset of parties that people start talking faster and louder and acting crazy? Ever notice drivers at night passing you at 90 mph? DUI, most of the time. Those who are concerned about this unfortunate death should look at the larger picture, booze and drugs surround us yet courts do not hand down sentences that reflect the seriousness of DUI crimes. Instead, courts routinely place drivers quickly back on our roads. We all need to recognize, DUI drivers are awash in alcohol, pills, inhalants, injectables, Rx and non Rx drugs, glue, and preparations like bath salts. And the court systems in America lets DUI drivers off one after the other! Jail is a rarity. License revocation is also a rarity. Supervised driving is all too common. The judges of America are partially responsible for the deaths and injuries DUI causes because judicial tolerance reigns supreme, once a judge slaps a wrist there is nothing worried parents can do to keep potential killers away from our kids. Drivers do not value their drivers' licenses nor fear jail because our tax paid judges have made it all too easy on violators.


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