A 19-year-old Hastings man was arraigned Wednesday in Dakota County District Court after allegedly "huffing" keyboard cleaner while driving -- and then crashing into a tree, seriously injuring two teen passengers.
Daniil M. Usachev was charged with four felony counts of criminal vehicular operation and a misdemeanor, fourth-degree driving while impaired.
Police were called to the scene of an accident about 5 a.m. on Aug. 4. They found a car crashed into a tree, three people who were hurt, and a can of compressed-air dust remover.
Usachev had been inhaling gases and propellants from the can -- a practice called "huffing" -- at a park for an hour or two before the crash and then again while driving, a criminal complaint says.
This is the first case of its kind in Dakota County -- an impaired driver found to be huffing -- said County Attorney James Backstrom.
Huffing, also called dusting or bagging, is a dangerous practice that Backstrom said is increasing among young people, who can use common household products in ways that turn lethal.
"The scary thing is that this is far more prevalent than most people realize," he said.
An estimated 100 to 125 young people die each year after inhaling products ranging from keyboard cleaners to spray paint to deodorant, Backstrom said. It's believed more deaths go unreported, he added.
Huffers get high from the chemicals that propel condensed air or other substances out of cans, he said. Of those who die, 22 percent were first-time abusers of the inhalants, which use up oxygen to the brain, Backstrom said.
Nationwide, nearly one in 10 adolescents ages 12 to 17 have used inhalants at some point, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Peak use is typically at ages 14 or 15, although some start as young as 6, according to the National Academy of Pediatrics.
Users can develop irregular heartbeats and suddenly die from the compounds. They can also suffocate, or may engage in risky behavior such as speeding and losing control of a car, Backstrom said.
It took months to complete the accident reconstruction and blood testing before Usachev was charged Wednesday.
Here's what happened, according to the complaint:
People were gathering in a park located near the Three Rivers mobile home park when "Dan" showed up with cans of air dust remover, which people began huffing. A witness told police that Dan -- later identified as Usachev -- blacked out several times between 2 and 3 a.m. while huffing.
Two teen passengers in Usachev's car, one male and one female, went to a store with him to buy more of the condensed air dust remover at 4 a.m. and also at 4:30 a.m. He huffed while driving in downtown Hastings, and the car began swerving.
The passengers urged Usachev to pull over, but five to 10 minutes later, one of the witnesses said, the car was going "very fast" when it hit a median, flew and crashed into the tree near 7th Street E. and Vermillion Street.
Usachev admitted to huffing an hour before the crash but said he didn't remember if he did it while driving.
This was the first time he tried huffing, Usachev told police, and when he did "everything was amplified for a few minutes," the complaint says.
"When asked about the accident, Usachev stated that all of a sudden the car stopped moving and the car would not start, that everything was slow and frozen in the time period. Usachev indicated that he saw that he was nose to nose with a tree."
Blood tests detected 1,1-difluoroethane in him. That's a flammable, colorless, odorless gas commonly used as a refrigerant, and a component in the dust remover.
A teen boy suffered a spinal injury that required him to wear a neck brace for eight weeks, and he needed screws in his fractured jaw, which was wired shut. The teen girl had a deep cut on her forehead, a mild brain injury, broken leg and cuts on her arm. The passengers' names were not disclosed. Usachev hurt his leg.
Usachev was held in the Dakota County jail Wednesday in lieu of $10,000 bail without conditions, or $5,000 with conditions that include no use of alcohol, drugs or compressed-air products.
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017
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