A Montana Highway Patrol investigation has revealed that the vehicle carrying two Columbia Falls teenagers in a June 6 fatal wreck on U.S. 2 had swerved into oncoming traffic twice before swerving a third time and striking a van head-on, killing both of them.
The southbound Nissan Sentra driven by Mercy Peterson, 18, crossed the center-turn lane and struck a northbound minivan about a half-mile south of Glacier Park International Airport on U.S. 2. Peterson died at the scene.
Peterson’s passenger, Kayli Mercedes Wagoner, 17, was transported to Kalispell Regional Medical Center via the ALERT helicopter but later died in surgery.
MHP Trooper Jerril Ren said the exact cause of the accident may never be known, but after interviewing witnesses, it was determined that Peterson’s vehicle swerved in front of an oncoming semi-tractor trailer truck and then into the oncoming northbound traffic a second time.
The semi-truck driver said it appeared Wagoner had her hands on the steering wheel, as if the driver was distracted.
When Peterson’s vehicle swerved a third time, it hit the minivan head-on. The van’s driver had no time to react, and both vehicles collided at highway speeds. A passenger in the van was treated and released at the hospital. The driver of the van suffered extensive lower body injuries but is expected to make a full recovery.
There have been rumors that the accident was a suicide, but Ren said there is no substantial evidence to support that assertion — there were no notes or letters or other indication suicide was involved, particularly with Wagoner.
It also did not appear to be a case of texting and driving. Peterson was taking Wagoner to work when the accident happened.
Ren said toxicology tests results are pending. The accident will be considered suspicious, but with no surviving victims in Peterson’s car, the exact cause may never be known, Ren noted.