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Teen driver killed 4 others in suicide crash, coroner rules

A fiery head-on crash that killed five people last week wasn't an accident but a nearly 100 mph murder-suicide by a distraught teen, authorities said Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A fiery head-on crash that killed five people in Wyoming last week wasn't an accident but a nearly 100 mph murder-suicide by a distraught teen, authorities announced Thursday.

The crash happened just after midnight Nov. 10 four miles south of Lander, a town of about 7,400 at the foot of the Wind River Range.

Matthew Denton, 17, deliberately turned the 2002 Chevrolet Suburban he was driving into oncoming traffic, Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan said.

The Suburban was going 97 mph when it crashed head-on into a 2005 Dodge Caravan, instantly killing all four people inside the minivan. Denton, who was alone in the Suburban, died at a Casper hospital shortly after the crash.

The van was going between 50 and 55 mph. There was no evidence Denton was targeting anyone inside the van, officials said.

"I don't think he had a clue who he was running into. It was dark. He picked the next vehicle that was coming down the road, is what it looked like to us," Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Adams said.

Killed in the minivan were 41-year-old Corina Surrell-Norman; her ex-husband, Arvin Surrell; their 25-year-old son, Ethan Surrell, who was driving the minivan; and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Melinda Escamilla. Denton was from Lander, and the Surrells lived in Fort Washakie about 20 miles north of the crash.

Authorities determined the crash was intentional after inspecting a vehicle data recording device in the Suburban. The "black box" device showed how fast the Suburban was going and that Denton didn't attempt to brake.

Denton was "well into the throttle, almost to floor" when the crash happened, Adams said.

He said text messages on Denton's phone revealed he was having "personal problems" leading up to the wreck. Adams declined to release the texts or say more about Denton's personal issues.

McAuslan's official finding was that Denton's death was a suicide and the deaths of the four others were homicides. McAuslan called it a murder-suicide.

"He did an intentional act that took the lives of four people," McAuslan said.

A toxicology report wasn't back yet.

The crash happened on a stretch of Wyoming Highway 789 that had two southbound lanes and a northbound lane. Denton was headed north when he crossed into both southbound lanes, according to a patrol release Monday.

The collision occurred in the inner southbound lane. The van tumbled off the highway and caught fire. Two people were ejected from the van and the other two burned inside, but McAuslan the collision killed all four instantly.

Lisa Hafer, principal at Lander Valley High School where Denton was a student, declined to comment Thursday.