By WILLIAM BROWNING Star-Tribune staff writer | Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011 12:57 pm
A two-car collision that killed five people in Fremont County last week has been deemed a homicide by suicide, according to authorities.
Lt. Tom Adams with the Wyoming Highway Patrol said an investigation into one of the drivers involved in the collision led, in part, to the ruling.
Adams said 17-year-old Matthew Denton purposefully drove a Chevrolet Suburban head-on into a Dodge Caravan carrying four people on Wyoming Highway 789 shortly after midnight on Nov. 10.
Denton’s vehicle was traveling
about 97 mph at the
point of impact. The van was traveling about 50 to 55 mph.
No skid marks — which would indicate an attempt at braking was
made prior to the collision — were found at the site of the collision about four miles south of Lander, authorities say.
Investigators would learn Denton, a Lander resident, was suffering from “personal problems” after reviewing text messages in his cellular telephone, Adams said.
Adams declined to elaborate on the nature of the problems.
Denton was northbound when the Suburban he was driving crossed the center line. The vehicle hit the Caravan, which was southbound. The Suburban subsequently rolled an undetermined number of times and came to rest on its top several hundred feet north of the crash site, according to the highway patrol.
The van also rolled several times before coming to a stop on its left side and catching fire.
The van’s four occupants — who were all Fremont County residents — were pronounced dead at the scene. They were: 45-year-old Arvin Surrell; 41-year-old Corina Surrell-Norman; 25-year-old driver Ethan Surrell; and 20-year-old Melinda Escamilla. Their deaths were designated homicides.
Authorities say only Surrell-Norman was wearing a seat belt at the time.
The Surrells were from Fort Washakie.
Denton, who was not wearing a seat belt, was pronounced dead after being transported first to a hospital in Lander and then to Wyoming Medical Center in Casper via helicopter. His manner of death has been ruled suicide.
All five people who perished in the accident died as a result of trauma, according to Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan.
Toxicology reports are pending, authorities say.
The crash closed both lanes of travel on the highway until about 5 a.m., officials say.
Road conditions at the time of the crash were dry.