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OTTAWA — A La Salle teen killed June 16 when he drove his vehicle into a quarry had ingested LSD and was apparently hallucinating, authorities said Wednesday.
An autopsy showed Zachary R. Behrens, 17, died as a result of drowning after his vehicle plunged at least 60 feet into a watery sand pit at the U.S. Silica facility on Main Street at Boyce Memorial Drive in Ottawa.
The cause of death was disclosed at a Wednesday news conference at which authorities also disclosed toxicology was positive for cannabis and for lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) a hallucinogen with the street name “acid.”
The death was ruled an accident. La Salle County sheriff Tom Templeton and coroner Jody Bernard emphasized reports of suicide or of a police chase were completely unfounded.
Templeton called the death “a tragic experiment” and that Behrens, an honors graduate of La Salle-Peru Township High School, had no previous history of drug abuse. The presence of LSD, coupled with evidence at the scene “leads me to believe he was not in control at all of his faculties,” Templeton said.
“His judgment was most definitely impaired,” coroner Jody Bernard said.
According to the investigation, Behrens had ingested LSD some time before leaving an Ottawa party in a vehicle whose driver’s side door wasn’t fully closed — Behrens had, however, buckled his seat belt — which then jumped a curb, traveled over a grassy area, crashed through a security fence, then up and over an embankment before plunging to the bottom.
The vehicle’s speed and path were witnessed by a K-9 handler with the Utica Police Department who was walking his dog. As Templeton recounted it, Lt. Jerry Nanouski told investigators that Behrens’ engine “was just roaring and it never let up.”
No charges were filed against any of those attending the Ottawa party and Templeton said there was no evidence that Behrens, who’d purchased the drug over the Internet, brought LSD to the party for distribution.
“(The lab) did indicate the composition of the LSD they’re seeing now is very similar to what we saw in the 1970s,” Bernard said.
Bernard noted that a standard toxicology test does not screen for LSD and she requested a special “panel” based on information obtained through the sheriff’s investigation. Lab technicians later told her the number of requested screenings for LSD has increased in recent years.
Templeton said he checked with drug agents and none reported any recent reemergence of LSD.
“Back in the ‘70s, there was a ton of LSD,” he said, adding later, “I remember (seizing) it, but it was a long time ago.”
Nevertheless, Templeton and Bernard urged parents to be aware of the drug’s availability and to consider that young people willing to experiment would have little trouble procuring it.
Behrens’ survivors were not present at Wednesday’s news conference but did issue a written statement through the authorities:
“Zachary was a wonderful, intelligent, loving young man. Zach was funny and always willing to help other people. He was an honor roll student, enrolled in the Air Force, never got in trouble and had a bright, promising future ahead of him. We couldn’t have asked for a better son or brother.
“Our family is completely devastated by this tragedy and we ask that our privacy be respected during this difficult time.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930.
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