A Stevensville woman faces a felony criminal endangerment charge after she allegedly lost consciousness after huffing CO2 canisters and launched her car nearly 150 feet in the air through a grocery store parking lot.
Caitlin Paige Leinum, 23, appeared Wednesday before Ravalli County Justice Jim Bailey on the felony charge and numerous misdemeanors.
Two Montana Highway Patrol troopers responded to a report of a roll-over crash near the Stevensville Wye at about 3:45 p.m. on June 6, according to the charging affidavit.
They found Leinum lying on the ground near her wrecked vehicle, and she was transported to a local hospital.
A crash investigation determined she was driving southbound on U.S. Highway 93 and appeared to have started to turn off onto the Stevensville Cutoff Road when her vehicle straightened, traveled south across all four lanes of traffic and hit a curb. From there, the vehicle continued about 320 feet through a grassy area before hitting the Super 1 grocery store signpost.
There was no indication the vehicle was either steering or braking at that point, an affidavit said. It hit the sign with enough force to knock it over and leave a dent in the asphalt.
After hitting the sign, the vehicle went up an embankment and became airborne, clearing the roadway and traveling 147 feet in the air before impacting the field with its right front bumper. It then vaulted and landed on its left rear corner before it stopped moving.
Thirty-nine CO2 canisters were found in and around the vehicle, as well as a device used to dispense the CO2 and a balloon used to inhale it, the affidavit said. A pipe commonly used to smoke marijuana was also located.
A witness reported catching part of the crash on a dashcam.
Another woman said she was turning into the store’s parking lot when Leinum’s vehicle flew directly in front of her. She estimated the airborne vehicle was about a length of a car in front of her, traveling between 50 to 60 mph.
At the hospital, Leinum said she was texting a boy while driving and didn’t remember driving across the highway or grass, the affidavit said. She did remember the feeling of flying or falling.
She admitted smoking marijuana and using inhalants at the Florence fishing access before leaving Stevensville, the affidavit said. She denied huffing the CO2 directly before the crash.
Leinum’s driver’s license is suspended out of Washington state, the affidavit said. She also is on conditions for a pending felony in Ravalli County.
The investigating trooper is a certified drug recognition expert. Because Leinum traveled 300 feet on the wrong side of the highway, hit a curb, traveled another 320 feet on the grass before hitting a sign and the embankment and didn’t once steer or use her brake, Leinum was “likely unconscious” at the time of the accident and not texting, the affidavit said.