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Teen driver was belted, authorities say

Authorities confirmed Friday that the Beldenville teenager killed in an October crash on Highway 35 was wearing a seat belt.

The news, passed along earlier in the week from St. Croix County Sheriff's Office investigators, came as a "huge relief," the victim's mother said Monday.

"There was nothing more she could have done," Ione Hayes said. "It brought us a lot of peace."

The revelation reverses the department's earlier statement that Kyra Hayes, 16, was not buckled up during the Oct. 21 crash north of River Falls in the town of Troy.

"When emergency responders arrived at the crash scene, several witnesses stated that Kyra Hayes had been ejected from the Oldsmobile Bravada she had been operating," the office said in a news release. "Law enforcement personnel on scene also noted that the seat belt was found to have been retracted."

That didn't make any sense to family members. Ione said they knew Kyra as the daughter who dutifully ensured other drivers were buckled if she saw otherwise.

"She always would wear her seat belt," Ione said, recalling how her daughter would "yell at us if we hadn't."

Analysis of the vehicle's engine control module revealed the seat belt had been buckled, the Sheriff's Office said. A Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office autopsy of Hayes also noted injuries "consistent with seat belt usage," according to the statement.

"As a result of this information, the crash report will be amended to indicate that a seat belt was in use at the time of the crash," the release states.

The offices said last month that preliminary investigation concluded that Hayes swerved in traffic after a driver handling a cellphone veered into her lane of traffic.

Authorities cited that driver, identified as 21-year-old Makellia S. Jensen, for operating without a valid license.

For now, Ione said she and her husband, Luke, are trying not to focus on Jensen's potential role in the fatal crash.

Jensen was cited again Oct. 29 in St. Croix County. The tickets were for speeding and driving without a valid license.

According to a Wisconsin State Patrol report, Jensen was stopped for going 79 mph on Highway 35 near Tower Road in the town of Troy — about a mile north of the fatal crash site.

Jensen spoke about the crash last week to WCCO-TV, where she denied using a phone while driving.

"We all make mistakes," the Big Lake, Minn., woman said in the television interview. "It's called an accident for a reason."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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