MADISON LAKE, Minn. (AP) — Shaun Lang had been warned that he could kill somebody if he persisted in playing “chicken” with other drivers.
Prosecutors and investigators think the 21-year-old played the game once too often, leading to a crash that killed two of his friends.
Now Lang is charged with manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide in the deaths of Matt Bisch, 18, and Craig Smasal, 16. On Thursday, after months of investigation, Lang will make his first appearance in Blue Earth County District Court.
“I look at that scene every day,” Dianne Smasal said recently, talking about the spot on Highway 60 where her son and Bisch were killed April 23. “And I drive down that road thinking, ‘When did they first see each other?’ I keep thinking about what he went through. He was probably thinking, ‘Mom’s going to be mad.'”
As Bisch drove his pickup truck westbound toward Madison Lake, Lang, a close friend, was driving east in a larger pickup. Both were driving close to, or just below, the speed limit of 55 miles per hour, authorities said.
Seconds later, the trucks collided. Bisch and Smasal died at the scene; Lang was seriously injured.
Stan Gruis, who supervised the investigation for the State Patrol, said alcohol was not a factor, nor were road or sun glare. Tests on the two trucks showed no obvious vehicle defects that would contribute to the crash.
Gruis also said there were no witnesses, meaning only Lang knows for certain what happened.
The criminal complaint outlines what authorities think occurred.
According to the complaint, the two trucks were found in the westbound ditch on the north side of the highway, the side of the road where Bisch would have been driving.
When authorities questioned Lang in the hours after the accident, he told them that he saw Bisch’s truck cross the center line and into his lane. He said he swerved left — and into the westbound lane — because he wasn’t sure what Bisch was going to do.
He then said that Bisch swerved back into the westbound lane. It was the last thing Lang said he remembered before driving onto the westbound shoulder.
But a patrol officer who specializes in accident reconstruction concluded that Bisch was in the proper lane and Lang wasn’t when they crashed.
In the months since, Gruis said Lang apparently has told friends a different story.
In June, a woman notified investigators that she overheard Lang telling friends that he and Bisch had planned to approach and pass each other in the wrong lanes, but that Smasal, who didn’t know about the plan, pulled the steering wheel, causing the accident.
“His story doesn’t hold water,” Gruis said. “I don’t care if (Lang) was playing chicken or not — he was on the wrong side of the road.”
Will Purvis, an investigator with the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department, interviewed three friends or acquaintances of Lang’s who told him Lang had a habit of playing “chicken” and often would do it to the extreme, steering clear at the last possible instant to avoid an accident.
Investigators also have heard reports that Lang continued playing “chicken” after the fatal accident. “All (of the sources) told me he was in the practice of playing this game,” Purvis said.