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Authorities probing whether fatal auto wreck was deliberate

Jun 18, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Official reports state Michelle Caines, 43, of Lander, attempted to avoid last week's traffic accident that resulted in the death of a 19-year-old Wisconsin man.

Chase Schweitzer, 19, of Arkdale, Wis., died at the scene of the crash, which was reported at about 5:25 p.m. Wednesday 3.5 miles east of Lander on Wyoming Highway 789.

According to reports, Schweitzer was driving southbound on Wyoming Highway 789 with passenger Andrea Esser, 17, of Sun Prairie, Wis., when his red 1998 Ford Countour crossed two lanes of travel for unknown reasons and entered the northbound lane.

The car reportedly collided with Caines' oncoming 2009 Ford F150 pickup truck. Officials said Caines saw the vehicle coming into her lane of travel and attempted to brake and swerve to avoid a head-on crash. But despite her efforts, the vehicles collided in a "near head-on impact," according to reports.

Both vehicles reportedly left the roadway to the east. Officials said the Contour struck a power pole and ejected both occupants, who were not wearing seatbelts. Schweitzer was pronounced dead at the scene, and Esser was hospitalized at Lander Regional Hospital. Caines, who reportedly was wearing a seatbelt, was treated and released from LRH.

Local news outlets have suggested Schweitzer caused the crash intentionally, but Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan said no official determinations have been made to that effect.

"We need to have the whole autopsy report before I'll make a decision," McAuslan said. "I don't really want to discuss that much at this point."

Last week, Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Adams said he wasn't sure why the Contour had drifted into the oncoming lane.

"We think we know, but our investigation is not complete yet," Adams said.

He anticipated more information would be released this week.

Adams couldn't say why the Wisconsin residents were in Wyoming. He doesn't think the teenagers have relatives in the area, and McAuslan said officials still are working on "that part of the investigation."

On Thursday Adams said he doesn't suspect that alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash, which left the highway's northbound lane closed while officials cleared the scene of debris.

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