Traffic violations issued to mother whose daughter died in wreck on Highway 74

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Minutes after the fatal car crash in which 7-year-old Hailey Dacus suffered fatal injuries, Victoria Dacus fought to save her daughter's life by administering CPR and assisting emergency personnel, Mitch Dacus said Monday.

"My wife did a lot of heroic things that day," he said.

Victoria Dacus, 28, had been driving the family's 2004 Chevrolet Venture minivan, with Hailey Dacus in the front seat and her two brothers, Caleb Dacus, 10, and Quinton Dacus, 6, in the back.

On Monday, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle announced that summonses had been issued to Victoria Dacus for speeding and failing to secure herself, Hailey and Hailey's siblings with seat belts.

On the day of the accident, Feb. 2, the children had just gotten haircuts. The family was on the way home, traveling westbound on Highway 74 near Minnesota Street, when the wreck occurred, Mitch Dacus said.

All three children had their seat belts on during most of the trip, police said in the early stages of the investigation, but at some point one of the boys took his off, and Hailey Dacus had turned around in her seat to tell him to buckle up, unstrapping her own belt.

At that moment, while Victoria Dacus may have been distracted by the children, the minivan struck a white Hummer sport utility vehicle, which had stalled at the roadside. There was snow on the ground and pushed up against the shoulder, and the afternoon sun was bright, making it difficult for Victoria Dacus to see the Hummer in time, Mitch Dacus said.

Shelton Hempstead Jr. of Cape Girardeau, owner of the Hummer, and his daughter were on their way to Auto Zone when their vehicle sputtered and died on Highway 74, Hempstead Jr. said Monday.

Hempstead Jr. said his vehicle was out of the road, contradicting police reports that it was only partially out of the roadway because of snow and ice pushed to the shoulder.

He and his daughter had gotten out and were trying to steer traffic away from their vehicle when the crash occurred, he said.

Mitch Dacus said his wife, a registered cardiac nurse with five years of medical education, not only had the presence of mind to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Hailey but directed EMTs and a corrections officer who stopped to offer assistance.

"She tried to save Hailey, and she's a very good nurse," Mitch Dacus said.

Caleb Dacus tried to help his mother, Mitch Dacus said.

Hailey suffered extensive trauma to the head and died later at a hospital.

Mitch Dacus said as of Monday the family had not received summonses in the mail and were not aware tickets had been issued until hearing about it in the news.

According to a probable-cause statement, the diagnostic module in the Dacus' minivan, obtained by search warrant, showed that Victoria and Hailey Dacus did not have their seat belts on at the time of the crash, and that the vehicle was traveling at 58 mph at the time of impact. The speed limit on Highway 74 is 45 mph.

Victoria Dacus told police none of the children had been wearing seat belts, the statement said.

According to Mitch Dacus, his wife had been at the hospital during the interview with police and extremely upset, her children's blood still on her clothing.

The Dacus family incurred more than $50,000 in hospital bills as a result of the crash, along with funeral expenses.

They had just purchased their first house, Mitch Dacus said, something they'd planned on doing when his wife finished nursing school.

"We went everywhere together -- we're not the kind of family that just drops their kids off at someone's house. We went camping, we went to Six Flags," he said.

Between 800 and 1,000 people attended the funeral for Hailey, Mitch Dacus said.

"Everybody thinks their kids are the best, and they should," he said. "My daughter was a strict angel."

Hempstead Jr. said he has had difficulty sleeping since the accident, and sleeps with the lights on to avoid seeing mental images of the wreck.

"It's all I see," he said. "I won't even hardly drive anymore."

He said he disagrees with the decision to issue summonses in the accident.

"She's going through enough pain -- what is a ticket going to prove?" Hempstead Jr. said.

He said he believes the accident will "bother him for the rest of his life."

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

388-3635

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