A man's death in the crash was the third death of a Minnesotan linked to the dangerously unpredictable substances.
A truck driver has been charged with two felonies for allegedly smoking synthetic marijuana before causing a fiery nighttime crash that killed a central Minnesota truck driver last week on Interstate 94 in western Wisconsin.
According to a criminal complaint filed Friday in Dunn County, Wis., Destry D. Wilson, 22, of Redding, Calif., stopped his flatbed semi in the westbound driving lane of I-94 near Menomonie and was rear-ended by a second semi, which burst into flame.
The driver of that truck, Brian L. Paglusch, 43, of Paynesville, couldn't escape his damaged cab and died of "catastrophic thermal injuries" just after the crash, about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday.
With an investigation pointing to Wilson's use of synthetic marijuana as a factor in the crash, Paglusch became the third Minnesotan whose death has been linked by authorities to synthetic drugs, which a Star Tribune investigation found to be dangerously unpredictable in chemical makeup and potency.
Officers who investigated the collision wrote in their reports that Wilson smelled of marijuana, seemed slightly disoriented and had red eyes. He told a deputy that while stopped at a rest area before the crash, he had used a pipe to smoke "spice," a type of synthetic marijuana, in the bunk-area of his cab, according to the complaint.
He told officers he was going about 65 miles per hour and talking to his girlfriend via a hands-free phone device when he was rear-ended, but several witnesses said he was stopped in the right-hand driving lane without flashers on, and skid marks indicated Paglusch braked heavily and tried to steer into the left-hand passing lane before striking the truck, the complaint said.
The Dunn County District attorney charged Wilson with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, both felonies, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.
He was held in the Dunn County jail Saturday in lieu of $20,000 bail, pending a preliminary court hearing scheduled for Aug. 13. His attorney, Eric Newmark of Minneapolis, said it would be premature to comment because he still was gathering facts.
Synthetic drugs, initially marketed as "legal" alternatives to such drugs as cocaine and marijuana, have been linked to more than 20 deaths nationwide. Tests of 30 synthetic drug products bought by the Star Tribune in 2011 revealed wide variations in makeup and potency, greatly increasing the chances of an overdose or unexpected effects.
The first Minnesotan whose death was linked to them was a 19-year-old man who ingested a so-called research chemical at a party in Blaine in the spring of 2011. Then last fall, authorities concluded after a four-month investigation that a 22-year-old Maple Grove man shot himself in the head accidentally because of an "altered state of mind" caused by synthetic marijuana.
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