Rachael Jankins initially told Upper Darby police that she was searching for her iPod last month when she veered off Lans-downe Avenue and onto the sidewalk, killing a Clifton Heights teenager and seriously injuring her friend.
But the presence of difluoroethane in her blood and the discovery of a can of the computer-cleaning spray Dust-Off in her Hyundai Accent may tell a different story about the Aug. 14 crash outside Delaware County Memorial Hospital.
Upper Darby police Superintendent Michael Chitwood Sr. said yesterday that the toxicology results show that Jankins, 20, of Haverford, was huffing the compressed air and was "under the impairing and psychoactive effects" of the inhalant at the time of the accident.
"We believe that at some point in time before the accident she took the can of Dust-Off and sprayed it in her mouth to get the effect of a high," Chitwood said. "We have now gone from a horrible accident to a criminal investigation."
Attempts to reach Jankins and her family were unsuccessful.
Nicole Gallo, 19, was killed instantly when the car crossed two lanes of traffic and drove onto the sidewalk. She graduated last year from Archbishop Prendergast High School, where she was known for her speed in the 100-meter hurdles, and was majoring in biology at Lebanon Valley College.
Christine Bochanski, 20, of Lansdowne, suffered serious injuries, including a broken back, and was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.
"She's doing miraculously well," said her mother, Renee Bochanski.
Jankins has not been arrested, but she could face charges including vehicular homicide and manslaughter. At the time of the accident, she had an ominous quote on her Facebook page, since removed: "Those who do not fear death will never die."
"She was whacked out when she was driving the car. Period," Chitwood said. "The kid did not have to die."
Gallo's longtime friend Amanda Pace was devastated to hear yesterday's news.
"All I do is cry," Pace said. "I went to the cemetery to let Nicole know. When I found out today in school, it hit me like a ton of bricks."
In 1999, five Penncrest High School juniors were killed when a car driven by a 16-year-old struck a tree on Route 1 in Chester Heights. Dimitri Contostavlos, then the Delaware County medical examiner, found that the driver and three passengers had difluoroethane in their blood. An empty can of Dust-Off was in the car.
Two years later, a 17-year-old Conestoga High School honors student was killed when the truck she was driving hit a tree in Tredyffrin Township. The Chester County coroner determined that she, too, had been inhaling the chemical.
Contostavlos said yesterday that huffing and driving is a fatal combination.
"If you take enough to get high," he said, "you'd be dangerous at the wheel."
By WILLIAM BENDER
September 10, 2009
Philadelphia Daily News