June 19, 2009 — Police said Friday that 18-year-old Karence DeCosta did not have drugs or alcohol in her system when she crashed the car she was driving into the concrete embankment on Veterans Drive Monday morning, just a few hours after her high school graduation.
They also said that if she had been wearing her seat belt, she might still be alive. Otherwise, details from a joint Police and Health department press conference on St. Thomas failed to shed much light on the accident.
In a prepared statement, one police investigator said that students who were out with DeCosta before the accident recalled hearing her say she was tired. Based on that, police came to the conclusion she fell asleep at the wheel, causing the crash, according to Police Corporal Ludrick Thomas.
The car was traveling westbound on Veterans Drive at an "accelerated rate of speed," when it hit the curb near the seaplane terminal and went "airborne," making contact with the wall and rail before coming to rest about 400 feet west of the initial point of impact, he said.
When asked exactly how fast the car was traveling, Thomas didn't get into specifics, but said it was going "very fast."
Sources close to DeCosta have said she was disturbed by a phone call she received while driving, and started to speed up on the highway. Thomas said later there was no evidence that DeCosta was on her cellphone before the accident.
District Police Chief Rodney Querrard Sr. said he wanted to put several rumors to rest about the accident. Police conducted a thorough investigation, interviewing several of DeCosta's classmates who were with her shortly before the accident, he added.
However, police did not say whether they interviewed the male passenger who was in the car with DeCosta that morning and sustained minor injuries. When asked after the press conference whether the passenger was interviewed, Thomas said he "was not at liberty to release that information."
Querrard said he was not actively involved in the investigation, and could not speculate as to whether the passenger was interviewed. But he said speaking to all witnesses after an accident is "routine police procedure."
The car DeCosta was driving was a rental, but wasn't checked out under her name, Thomas said during the press conference. When asked who rented the car — since both DeCosta and the male passenger traveling with her were both under the age of 25 — Thomas said, "I can't tell you that."
A separate investigation revealed that an emergency medical services employee with the Health Department took a photo of DeCosta at the scene of the accident. The photo has been circulating for at least the past week, and police have been asking that anyone who receives the photo via text message or email to delete it.
"From the onset, this investigation was of a very sensitive nature, and so we worked to resolve this matter to bring about closure post haste, for all involved," acting Health Commissioner Julia Sheen said during the press conference. "Let me make it clear — any breach of confidentiality or privacy of patients or clients is unacceptable."
Sheen said the EMS employee was immediately put on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Before any further action was taken, that employee chose to resign, effective June 17, she added.
A second investigation was launched after officials learned the picture was being circulated on the Internet, Sheen said.
"We learned during the course of the initial investigation that there were allegations of department employees who were in receipt of the e-mailed photo and were allegedly forwarding it to others," she explained. The investigation is ongoing, and the department will "take disciplinary action" against employees who initiated or participated in circulating the picture, Sheen said.
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