St. Croix mom, 2 kids suffer severe injuries; driver of other car failed three sobriety tests


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ST. CROIX - A mother and her two children are recovering after their compact vehicle was slammed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver Sunday night.

The driver of the GMC Envoy that hit their car, Chelsie Claus, 26, of Hannah's Rest was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving.

According to the probable cause fact sheet filed in court by V.I. Police Officer Melford Murray, officers were called by frantic residents about 7:43 p.m. Sunday to report a two-vehicle collision on Queen Mary Highway, just west of the Paradise Road intersection.

Because of the seriousness of the accident and the severity of injuries to the persons involved, police, emergency medical technicians and St. Croix rescue were all called to the scene to render assistance.

Murray said that when he arrived, he made contact with the driver of a 2002 Ford Focus, who had been traveling eastbound on the highway with her two children - an 11-year-old girl in the front seat and a 6-year-old boy in the back seat. The driver and the boy had managed to make their way out of the vehicle, but the girl had to be extricated by rescue personnel, Murray said.

The mother suffered multiple abrasions and lacerations to her face, hip and foot. The girl had multiple lacerations to her face and hand and multiple fractures to her left leg. The boy suffered the most serious injuries, primarily to his face, which had multiple fractures and missing teeth, and he was experiencing complications from a collapsed lung, according to the police report.

On Tuesday, family members said the mother and daughter remained hospitalized at Luis Hospital while the boy was airlifted to Miami where he is undergoing emergency medical treatment.

Murray said he spoke to Claus, who was still sitting in her vehicle, and when he approached her, he smelled a strong order of an alcoholic beverage and asked her whether she had been drinking. Murray said the woman replied that she had a drink when she got off her shift at her job as a bartender at a north shore eatery.

Murray said Claus' eyes were watery and glossy and her speech was slurred and she was incoherent as he tried to speak with her. She failed three field sobriety tests, he said.

Murray said Claus gave an initial statement and told police that she was traveling westbound on Queen Mary Highway when she suddenly saw the small car in front of her without lights on and felt the impact of the crash.

However, Murray said based on his investigation, he believes that the compact car was traveling west-to-east and Clause was traveling east-to-west without her headlights on when her SUV veered over to the right into the eastbound lane and caused the collision. He said the crash occurred in the eastbound lane based on the concentration of the debris.

He said once they got to the police station, Clause refused to submit to the chemical blood-alcohol content test and said her father was going to get her an attorney and she refused to make any further statements.

At her advice-of-rights hearing Monday, Claus had not yet retained an attorney and Assistant Public Defender Venetia Velasquez challenged the probable cause fact sheet.

Magistrate Miguel Camacho allowed the prosecution to call Murray to the stand to give testimony on the details of the incident.

Camacho then found probable cause for the arrests.

Assistant Attorney General Zulema Chapman made an oral motion to increase the charges to include third-degree assault and driving without headlights.

Camacho denied the motion for the increased charges.

Claus had posted bail Sunday night, shortly after her arrest, and Camacho allowed that $1,000 bail to remain in place after Claus surrendered her passport.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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