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Utah teen girl killed in ‘heartbreaking’ wrong-way, head-on crash

TAYLORSVILLE — Unified police detective Chuck Malm called it "heartbreaking."

"This is senseless. This is one of those things that is completely, 100-percent preventable," he said.

Early Tuesday, a teen girl was killed, three others seriously injured, and an 18-year-old man arrested after a night of joyriding by a group of young adults and juveniles ended in a wrong-way, head-on collision.

"We're trying to put it all together. But from what it sounds like, it may have been some teenagers joyriding. Alcohol may be a factor in this. That's under investigation," Malm said. "This is just kids, teens, making some really poor choices."

Casey Cook Ziemelis, 18, was arrested for investigation of DUI/automobile homicide and two counts of aggravated assault.

Casey Cook Ziemelis

Salt Lake County Jail

Casey Cook Ziemelis

Ziemelis was driving west in a Chevrolet Trailblazer with five other passengers near 4500 South and Atherton Drive (1100 West), and was speeding, according to a Salt Lake County Jail report.

"Two victims in a vehicle traveling eastbound saw the suspect vehicle cross over the median and into their lane of travel. The victim reported attempting swerving out of the way of the suspect vehicle and the suspect vehicle then changed direction and appeared to be intentionally trying to crash in to them head-on," the report states.

The impact from the crash caused the Trailblazer to roll. One of the passengers in the SUV, a 14-year-old girl was killed. Three others were taken to local hospitals in serious condition, the report states. Another juvenile girl in the SUV was not injured.

Malm said it was "pretty miraculous" that a couple in the Toyota that was hit walked away from the crash with only minor injuries.

As for whether the abrupt lane change was intentional, Malm said that was still under investigation. But early indications, he said, show the crash was likely the result of young people who, once they got together as a group, "weren't thinking."

"It just sounds like these kids were joyriding and up to no good," he said.

Ziemelis ran away from the crash scene but was captured a short time later by police.

"The suspect had an odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his person. The suspect also showed signs of impairment," police noted in their report.

The name of the deceased girl, from Taylorsville, was not immediately released.

Police had twice come in contact with the same SUV earlier in evening. The first time was about 10:30 p.m. Monday when officers received a call of a reckless driver near 3900 South and 500 East. Nearby officers spotted the vehicle near 3900 South and Main Street. But when they tried to pull it over, the Trailblazer sped off, Malm said. The officers did not pursue it at that time.

About 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, police were called to an apartment complex in Millcreek to check on suspicious activity, Malm said.

"Our officers came across a group of individuals who got into the same vehicle that fled from the traffic stop," he said.

As the officers got out of their car to talk to the group, they sped off. Again, police did not give chase, Malm said. About 1:10 a.m., the crash on Atherton was reported.

After his arrest, police say they had to use fingerprint records to try and positively identify Ziemelis, who has used several aliases with different police agencies in the past, in addition to different birth dates.

He was also booked into the Salt Lake County Jail in November after police say he again gave a false name to officers. Police originally came in contact with Ziemelis after spotting an SUV with three men "sitting in a dark area of a dead-end street," according to a jail report. Ziemelis later told police he lied about his identity because he was scared, the report states.

While police say Ziemelis was not a documented gang member, on his Facebook page it appeared that he at least wanted to give the impression to others that he was. The banner on his page, which hasn't been updated since 2015, is a boxer with a gang tattoo wearing blue boxing gloves knocking out a man with red boxing gloves.

He continued to post more pictures of himself in the following months, progressively wearing more blue clothing and eventually a blue bandana over his face while flashing a gang sign.

Friends and family members commenting on his photos encouraged him to stop.

"I'm telling you don't follow paths that lead you nowhere," one woman wrote.

Others wrote for Ziemelis to "go to school" and he will "end up in prison" if he continued down that road.

According to court records, Ziemelis was charged in 3rd District Juvenile Court with burglary of a dwelling, a first-degree felony, for an incident in 2016 when he was 16.