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SALT LAKE CITY — Four men who were in a vehicle that slammed into a truck parked in Big Cottonwood Canyon, killing a 16-year-old girl who was asleep inside, had all been drinking prior to getting in the car, police say.
But one man told police he didn’t think his friend — the suspected driver — was “that drunk,” according to a search warrant affidavit.
Now, police are seeking DNA evidence to confirm who was driving that night before formally screening charges with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
Just before 3 a.m. on Aug. 17, Sierra Rosalina Chacon was sleeping in the covered bed of a Ford F250 along with her mother, Brandilee Kussee Chacon, 44, in a designated parking area off the side of Big Cottonwood Road near the Butler Fork Trailhead in the area of 9300 East, when a Chevrolet Malibu smashed into them.
Sierra was having a mother-daughter campout to celebrate her 16th birthday, according to her obituary.
The Malibu was traveling down the canyon when it “failed to negotiate the curve, left the roadway, went partially through a culvert, and went airborne. The Chevrolet landed on the cargo truck bed area of the Ford. The collision caused the Ford to rotate and the Chevrolet to vault into a tree on the hillside,” according to the warrant filed in 3rd District Court.
Sierra was pronounced dead at the scene. Her mother was taken to a local hospital in critical condition.
Four men were in the Malibu, which came to rest on its roof. Their injuries ranged from critical to very critical, according to Unified police.
Two of the men later told police that all four of them had been drinking at a house when the suspected driver and his friend left to go to a party, the affidavit states. The other two remained at the residence and continued drinking, police say.
Later, the two men who went to the party returned “and asked if (the others) wanted to go up the canyon to see the lights,” the warrant states.
By that point, the two men who stayed at the home “said they were both drunk,” and that the suspected driver and his friend “had been drinking but they weren’t ‘that drunk,’” one man told police, according to the affidavit.
The men said they drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon, got out of the vehicle for about 30 minutes and then started driving back down.
Although investigators suspect they know who was driving, they need DNA evidence to confirm it, according to the warrant, which seeks mouth swabs from the suspected driver to compare with DNA collected from the airbag and seat belts of the Malibu.
As of Tuesday, no one had been arrested in connection with the crash. Salt Lake police were asked to handle the investigation into the crash.
An updated condition on Brandilee Chacon was not immediately available on Tuesday.
A memorial service for Sierra is scheduled for Sunday at the Salt Lake County Viridian Event Center, 8030 S. 1825 West. The family has requested in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Spyhop at https://spyhop.org/donate/, a nonprofit organization that “gave Sierra so much joy and purpose in life,” according to her obituary. Spyhop is a digital media after-school program for teenagers.
“Sierra will be sadly missed by all who knew her. Sierra was a talented young artist having won several art awards at Hillcrest High School and the Eccles Art Center in Ogden. Sierra enjoyed working with other artists and recently completed her second apprenticeship at Spyhop in Salt Lake City,” her obituary says.
Sierra also enjoyed helping her mother with children programs at the Draper Library, hiking, stargazing with her parents, “hanging out with friends, and listening to her favorite band the Beatles,” her family wrote.