Teen Driver Accused Of Huffing Before Hitting 2 Women In Lowell

LOWELL (CBS) – A 17-year-old was allegedly huffing compressed air while driving when she struck two pedestrians in Lowell on Sunday.

Catherine Gaudette, of Dracut, is accused of hitting 45-year-old Doris Milagro-Ortiz and 22-year-old Tina Phoeuth on Mammoth Street Sunday afternoon. She faces numerous charges, including Assault and Battery with a Dangerous Weapon Causing Serious Bodily Injury (2 counts) and Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle.

Gaudette, who was riding with 17-year-old Andrew Dubois and two male juveniles, was allegedly inhaling vapors of compressed air, which is commonly used to clean computer keyboards. Breathing in the chemical difluoroethane, which is found in compressed air, can give users a “high.”

WBZ-TV’s Christina Hager reports

When victims’ relatives got word that the accident was caused by a teenager allegedly huffing, they were shocked. “Someone’s ignorance now has someone’s life on the line and you can’t take it back. It’s irreversible,” says Doris Milagro-Ortiz’s brother, Francisco Ortiz.

She is at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in a coma. Her son says he’s been talking to her every day, hoping she’ll wake up, but doctors say there’s no guarantee she’ll even recognize him if she opens her eyes. “It’s terrifying to know that still today, people are still thinking of doing stupid stuff like that,” says her son Jonathan Ortiz.

Doctors say teenagers should learn a lesson from the tragedy. “Kids who come to our program usually know that driving after drinking alcohol is not a good idea, but they underestimate the risk of driving after using other substances,” says Dr. Sharon Levy, who heads up Children’s Hospital’s Adolescent Substance Abuse program. “One of the issues about inhalants is that they’re readily accessible.” Levy says huffing can lead to permanent nerve damage and can even be fatal.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Jim Smith reports

Gaudette allegedly lost consciousness shortly before hitting both pedestrians.

No court date has been set for Gaudette to face her charges.

WBZ-TV’s Christina Hager contributed to this report.

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