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Teen driver was belted, authorities say

Authorities confirmed Friday that the Beldenville teenager killed in an October crash on Highway 35 was wearing a seat belt at the time of the incident. (River Falls Journal photo)

Fatal crash remains under investigation

Authorities confirmed Friday that the Beldenville teenager killed in an October crash on Highway 35 was wearing a seat belt at the time of the incident.

The news, passed along earlier in the week from St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office investigators, came as a “huge relief,” the victim’s mother said Monday.

“There was nothing more she could have done,” Ione Hayes said. “It brought us a lot of peace.”

The revelation reverses an earlier statement from the sheriff’s office that Kyra Hayes, 16, was not buckled up during the Oct. 21 crash north of River Falls in the town of Troy.

“When emergency responders arrived at the crash scene, several witnesses stated that Kyra Hayes had been ejected from the Oldsmobile Bravada she had been operating,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release. “Law enforcement personnel on scene also noted that the seat belt was found to have been retracted.”

That didn’t make any sense to the family. Ione said they knew Kyra as the daughter who would dutifully ensure other drivers were buckled if she saw otherwise.

“She always would wear her seat belt,” Ione said, recalling how her daughter would “yell at us if we hadn’t.”

Analysis of the vehicle’s engine control module revealed the seat belt had been buckled, the sheriff’s office said. A Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office autopsy of Hayes also noted injuries “consistent with seat belt usage,” according to the statement.

“As a result of this information, the crash report will be amended to indicate that a seat belt was in use at the time of the crash,” the release states.

The sheriff’s office said last month that preliminary investigation concluded that Hayes swerved in traffic after a driver handling a cellphone veered into her lane of traffic.

That driver, identified by authorities as 21-year-old Makellia S. Jensen, was cited for operating without a valid license.

Ione said she and her husband, Luke, are trying not to focus on Jensen’s role for now.

“Our energy needs to be remember our daughter,” she said.

Jensen was cited again after an Oct. 29 traffic incident in St. Croix County, where she was ticketed for speeding and driving without a valid license.

According to a Wisconsin State Patrol report, Jensen was stopped for going 79 mph on Highway 35 near Tower Road in the town of Troy — about a mile north of the fatal crash site.

Jensen spoke about the crash last week to WCCO-TV, where she denied using a phone while driving.

“We all make mistakes,” the Big Lake, Minn., woman said in the television interview. “It’s called an accident for a reason.”

Jensen’s Facebook page offered similar commentary in a Friday, Nov. 4, post. A person posting as Jensen in a comment string admitted to cutting Hayes off and not checking her blind spot.

The post, which was taken down between Friday and Monday, states Hayes “never honked when she could of [sic] so she obviously wasn’t paying attention either.”

“It’s unfortunate that accidents like this happen everyday, and unfortunately [sic] it was one of your members, I think about it everyday, like I did it on (expletive) purpose?” the Jensen post states, which was made in response to someone attacking her character.

Ione said she is aware of Jensen’s Facebook post and noted that the incident “doesn’t seem to be impacting her a whole lot.”

“I don’t understand that,” she said.

Ione said she and her husband are choosing to remember Kyra’s positive outlook instead. She said that means being thoughtful about how people treat one another.

“People are so focused on themselves and don’t think about ripples they’re sending out,” she said. “Every action has an impact on other people.”

She said an investigator is keeping the family updated as the investigation continues.

“He’s working hard to make sure that the right thing is done,” Ione said.

St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Scott Knudson said investigators are aware of Jensen’s Facebook comments.

“She is not doing herself any favors posting things,” he said, adding that it’s possible those online comments could become evidence used against her.

“We are looking at all aspects of the case,” he said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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