A 26-year-old woman is suspected of driving soon after shooting up a powerful narcotic, triggering a three-vehicle crash that killed two on-duty Carlton County highway workers this week.

Vanessa R. Brigan, of Cloquet, was charged Wednesday in District Court with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide. The criminal complaint noted that she and a friend were returning from receiving their regular methadone supply at a treatment clinic in Brainerd.

The charges specifically allege that Brigan was under the influence of a controlled substance Monday morning at about 8:45 and was behind the wheel as her car weaved along eastbound Hwy. 210 between Cromwell and Wright, crossed the center line and struck a county highway truck.

The truck, its axle broken, then hit a pickup truck trailing Brigan's car, according to the State Patrol. Killed were county employees Zachary M. Gamache, 25, of Esko, and Mitchell D. Lingren, 29, of Duluth.

Gamache, who was driving, and Lingren were thrown from the truck and died at the scene. Neither had on seat belts, according to the patrol.

Fresh needle marks

Brigan had fresh needle track marks on her arms on arrival at the jail, according to the complaint. A syringe that held a small amount of methadone and a used needle were found in her car, according to the complaint. A state trooper at the crash scene noted that Brigan appeared to be under the influence.

Brigan's passenger, Jesse D. McMillen, 25, of Cloquet, downed a bottle of liquid methadone and ran from the crash into the woods, but he was soon discovered, according to the charges.

McMillen said he fled because of active warrants for his arrest and after seeing "the two lifeless, motionless bodies" in the road, according to the complaint.

He also said he and Brigan knew not to use methadone while driving.

Methadone, a synthetic narcotic, is prescribed to help wean addicts off a host of illicit opiates, among them heroin and morphine.

Brigan's driving history in Minnesota includes driving with an expired license, failure to appear in court and driving without proof of insurance. She appeared in court Wednesday and remains jailed. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday.

Gamache was a civil engineer for the county and also an Esko volunteer firefighter. He graduated from Esko High School in 2005 and from Lake Superior College in 2007.

Lingren was a highway survey crew chief and also coached his son's youth hockey team in Cloquet and baseball in Duluth. He graduated from Cloquet High School in 2001.

He was a "plaid-shirt" wearing kind of guy, who loved the outdoors and fishing in particular, said his father, David Lingren. He began passing that love onto his son and daughter, taking them fishing and going for long walks in the woods. "He was just a wonderful dad," David Lingren said.

The entire highway department staff was attending Gamache's funeral Thursday. Services for Lingren are scheduled for Friday.

"These two were great guys on their way to do a job," said Ted Pihlman, chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, whose district includes the area where the crash occurred.

"Carlton County is a close-knit community, and when you lose someone, it affects every one of us," Pihlman added.

Gamache and Lingren were on survey crews, which Pihlman called "one of the most important jobs" in a department that oversees about 450 miles of county highway.

Staff Writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482