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Man injured in fatal wreck faces weeks of rehab; drugs in other car

Apr 6, 2017 By Kelli Ameling, Staff Writer

A Riverton man who suffered critical injuries in a two-car collision that killed three other people is facing weeks of recovery and rehabilitation in Utah.

Brian Rhodes, 42, of Riverton, who was driving a pickup truck that was struck by another vehicle, was taken by air ambulance to Utah, where he is being treated for his injuries.

His wife, Cora Durgin, said he suffered a broken leg, hip and shoulder and also had a brain bleed. She said he will likely be in rehabilitation for at least two months.

Crash investigation

Investigators have confirmed that drugs and drug paraphernalia were found in one of the vehicles involved in the wreck last month north of Lander.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Lee Pence said his agency will add impaired driving to the list of factors that contributed to the crash, but he declined to discuss the type and amount of drugs found in the vehicle.

Autopsy reports showed the driver of the vehicle in question, Darion Wheeler, 18, of Lander, had consumed more than 10 times the impaired driving limit for cannabis before he lost control of the northbound 2003 Honda Pilot SUV and spun in front of the southbound 1993 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Rhodes at about 8:15 p.m. March 14 on Wyoming Highway 789 about two miles north of Lander.

Wheeler suffered fatal injuries on scene, as did his sister, Destinee Wheeler, 15, of Hudson, and another passenger, Paul McEwan, 20, of Greybull.

The passenger deaths are listed as homicides on autopsy reports, while Darion Wheeler's is defined officially as an accident.

Community support

Businesses have helped raise funds to support the families of those involved in the crash. Durgin cited Main Street Car Wash in Lander, which raised and donated money that allowed her extra time with her husband.

As Rhodes continues to heal, she said the family hopes to move him to a rehabilitation establishment in Fremont County.

Donation pages have been set up at GoFundMe.com to help support Rhodes's recovery, along with a separate page to help with funeral costs for Destinee Wheeler, Darion Wheeler and Paul McEwan. The pages can be found by searching "Brian Rhodes Recovery" and "Wheeler Family Services Fund."

An account was also set up at Central Bank and Trust for Rhodes to help with medical costs.

THC

An autopsy showed Darion Wheeler died of closed head and chest trauma. Toxicology tests indicate he had more than 50 nanograms per milliliter of Delta-9 THC in his system - the short-term, most active metabolite of the drug.

Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen said Delta-9 THC shows up in the system 6-9 minutes after cannabis is ingested and only lasts about 2 hours. Based on the levels that showed up in Darion Wheeler's system, Stratmoen thinks the man had consumed cannabis immediately before, or while he was driving.

"The level was so astonishingly high," Stratmoen said. "That's the highest I've seen."

The National Institutes of Health and the Highway Traffic Safety Administration consider a driver to be impaired if he or she has consumed more than 5 ng/ml of Delta-9 THC. Because Darion Wheeler's toxicology showed more than 10 times that amount, Stratmoen concluded drug use was "directly related" to the death.

"We have to consider it relevant," Stratmoen said. "Nobody has a tolerance that large."

There are other THC metabolites that stay in the system longer than Delta-9 THC, like Delta-9 Carboxy THC and 11-Hydroxy Delta-9 THC. Stratmoen said Darion Wheeler had those in his system, too - 100 ng/ml of the former and 6.4 ng/ml of the latter.

Destinee Wheeler also had consumed cannabis March 14, according to her autopsy, which showed she died of closed head trauma. Her toxicology report indicates she had 4 ng/ml of Delta-9 THC and 19 ng/ml of Delta-9 Carboxy THC in her system.

McEwan's autopsy report stated he died of closed head trauma and cervical neck fracture; his system contained 13 ng/ml of Delta-9 THC, 25 ng/ml of Delta-9 Carboxy THC and 3.2 ng/ml of 11-Hydroxy Delta-9 THC.

No other drugs or alcohol were found in any of the toxicology tests.

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