A 17-year-old boy has been charged with driving his new car nearly 100 miles per hour in a swerving thrill ride that went unexpectedly airborne along an interstate frontage road in Burnsville, pitching two of his four teenage passengers to their deaths.
Joshua L. Decoteau, of Burnsville, was charged Wednesday in Dakota County’s juvenile court with a host of counts in connection with the deaths last summer of Frederick J. Alexander, 16, of Burnsville, and Alesha K. Roehl, 17, of rural Northfield.
The crash occurred about 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2012, when the 1992 Toyota Camry veered off Buck Hill Road, left a half-block of skid marks, went through a security fence and rolled down a grassy embankment onto the shoulder of Interstate 35.
Decoteau, who was slightly hurt, had violated a state law limiting how many teenage passengers could ride in his car, according to the State Patrol. The teen had received his license less than six months before the crash, during which time the law allows only one passenger under age 20.
“This case appears to be an example of how quickly an inexperienced driver can lose control of a vehicle if speeding and driving recklessly,” County Attorney James Backstrom said in announcing the charges.
Also, in light of Alexander and Roehl not wearing seat belts at the time, Backstrom added, “This [crash] also underscores the importance for all persons in a vehicle to wear a seat belt.”
The charges against Decoteau are: two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide (involving gross negligence), and one felony count and one gross-misdemeanor count of criminal vehicular operation (involving gross negligence resulting in substantial bodily harm).
The case is being filed under the state’s extended juvenile jurisdiction statute. If convicted, the statute calls for a stayed adult prison sentence and extension of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the case until the defendant turns 21 years old.
According to the State Patrol’s reconstruction investigation:
Decoteau was driving 96 mph in a 40-mph zone along southbound Buck Hill Road, when the car went airborne, spun 180 degrees and hit a curb. The car rolled at least six times – end over end – and down a hill, landing in the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 north of the County Road 46 exit.
The driver, who had just gotten the car four or five days earlier, was weaving back and forth while accelerating.
Decoteau told investigators that he was trying to have fun behind the wheel and must have hit the gas pedal instead of the brake before losing control of the car.
Front-seat passenger Jonathan L. Thomas, of Lakeville, 16 at the time, told investigators that he had warned Decoteau to slow down before the crash.
Decoteau and Thomas were wearing seat belts. Along with Alexander and Roehl, fellow back-seat passenger Rey Chacon, 17 at the time, of Burnsville, was not wearing his seat belt. Chacon was thrown from the vehicle and suffered a cut on his arm and other injuries.
Alexander and Roehl went to Lakeville South High School's alternative learning center. The others went to Lakeville South.