Most people think of drinking and driving when it comes to car accidents. However, other substances can lead to impairment while behind the wheel. Huffing is one of them. It led to a tragic hit-and-run that killed three Girl Scouts and a mother, and the driver might not be the only one to face charges.
A fatal hit-and-run killed 3 Girl Scouts and a mother
A group of Girl Scouts and parent chaperones were picking up litter along a road in Lake Hallie, Wisconsin, on Nov. 3, 2018. That’s when a pickup truck plowed into them and took off. The impact killed three of the girls and a mother and left another girl with life-altering injuries, Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports.
The man behind the wheel was 21-year-old Colton Treu. In March 2020, he was sentenced to 51 years in prison for hitting the group, leaving the scene, and hiding his Ford F-150 to cover his crime. Five hours after the fatal hit-and-run, he turned himself in. He admitted to police he was under the influence of Ultra Duster, a compressed spray used to clean computer keyboards, which he had purposely inhaled to get high.
Treu’s passenger, John Stender, was charged and convicted of helping Treu hide his truck after the crash, according to WEAU News. On Sept. 17, 2021, he was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by three years of supervision.
“Killed in the Nov. 3 crash that gained national attention were Jayna Kelley, 9, and Autumn Helgeson, 10, both of Lake Hallie, and Haylee Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both of the Chippewa County town of Lafayette,” Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported. “Another Girl Scout, 10-year-old Madalyn Zwiefelhofer, also suffered serious injuries in the crash.”
The victims’ relatives are suing Walmart for allegedly selling the product that led to the hit-and-run
Though the two men involved in the crash were tried and convicted, the victims’ families still believe other parties should answer for their role in the tragedy, WQOW News reports. That’s why they’re suing Walmart, which allegedly sold the Ultra Duster spray to Treu.
According to Bloomberg Law, Walmart tried to have the lawsuit dismissed but failed. So the case will move forward.
In addition, Top Class Actions reports there’s another lawsuit against Walmart for the sale of Ultra Duster. A man named Tyler Harmon hit a mother and young girl head-on. Though both survived, the mother must use a wheelchair, and the daughter underwent extensive surgeries. Now they’re suing Walmart because evidence suggests Ultra Duster has been used to get high since 2008, yet it’s still sold in stores with zero restrictions.
Huffing and driving is extremely dangerous
Years ago, kids had to sneak off to buy drugs. Now they can walk into a big-box retailer and buy aerosol sprays.
According to the National Institutes of Health, inhalants are used to get high by breathing in a substance. It can include anything that can become a gas at room temperature, aerosol sprays, and even nitrites prescribed for chest pain. These inhalants can be present in cleaning fluids, spray paints, and even markers.
The fact that they’re so easy to obtain might be why teens and preteens huff. The high doesn’t last long. In fact, it lasts only minutes. That leads to users huffing more to maintain their high. It alters the mind by affecting the central nervous system and slowing brain activity.
Side effects of huffing include delusions, hallucinations, lightheadedness, vomiting, drowsiness, and headaches. Long-term use might lead to hearing loss, nerve damage, loss of coordination, limb spasms, liver and kidney damage, delayed behavioral development, bone marrow damage, and brain damage.
For people addicted to inhalants, cognitive behavior therapy and motivation incentives are effective forms of treatment.
Huffing itself is dangerous, but it can become even deadlier when combined with driving.
How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.