BOSTON (AP) — With graduation looming, a time for celebration turned somber at Boston University on Saturday, as students who were packing up at the end of the school year learned that three classmates studying in New Zealand were killed when their minivan crashed during a weekend trip.
At least five other students were injured in the accident early Saturday, including one who was in critical condition.
Boston University spokesman Colin Riley said those killed in the accidents were Daniela Lekhno, 20, of Manalapan, N.J.; Austin Brashears, 21, of Huntington Beach, Calif.; and Roch Jauberty, 21, whose parents live in Paris.
The students were traveling in a minivan at about 7:30 a.m. Saturday near the North Island vacation town of Taupo when the vehicle drifted to the side of the road and then rolled when the driver tried to correct course, New Zealand police said.
Three of the students died at the scene, police said. Another woman was in critical condition at an area hospital, while at least four other students suffered moderate injuries.
Another BU student, Margaret Theriault, was airlifted from the crash site to a hospital in Taupo and was in critical condition, the university said.
Efforts by The Associated Press to reach family members of Lekhno and Brashears were unsuccessful Saturday. A person who answered the phone at the home of Lekno’s family declined to comment, and a message left at a phone listing for Brashears’ family wasn’t immediately returned.
At the university, final exams ended Friday, and there were few outward signs of any socializing on Saturday morning; the student union was deserted. The main activity involved students in the dorms hauling out boxes and pushing rolling bins filled with their belongings to waiting moving trucks, or their parents’ cars as they scurried to meet a noon deadline to clear out.
“It was really upsetting. They were abroad and it’s so sad that something has to happen when you are supposed to be experiencing one of the best times of your life,” said Marcelle Richard, 18, of New Orleans, who was moving out after finishing her freshman year.
Richard said the tragedy will not stop her from going abroad to study later in her college career.
“It’s just like tragedies happen, and I don’t want that to stop me from a good learning experience,” she said.
Jordan Nunez, 22, a senior who is graduating next week, said the study-abroad program is very popular among Boston University students. He estimates 25 percent to 30 percent of his friends traveled to foreign countries to study.
Still, the New Zealand accident has darkened the mood on campus, he said..
“You think everything’s always taken care for you, but things can happen wherever you are in the world,” he said. “It’s just something that’s sad for our community.”
Students, faculty and well-wishers were expected to gather Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil for the victims, Riley said.
“This is a horrible tragedy,” Boston University President Robert Brown said in a statement on the website. “Our prayers go out to the students and their families. We will do all we can to provide comfort and assistance to those who have been injured, and to the families and friends of the victims. The university is mobilizing all of our resources to help our students and families deal with this tragedy.”
All of the students except Theriault were enrolled in a BU study abroad program in Auckland, the BU website said. Theriault was enrolled in a study abroad program in Sydney, Australia.
Sixteen students were traveling in two minivans, on their way to hike the Tongariro Crossing, a famous trek rated as one of the most spectacular in New Zealand. The hike crosses a volcanic crater in the central part of North Island.
None of the eight students in the second van was injured. Seven of those eight students were also from Boston University.
Kevin Taylor, a police official, said it was not clear why the van drifted to the side of the road. He said some of the students were thrown from the vehicle, indicating they may not have been wearing seat belts.
Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore said this was a terrible end to the school year.
“This is an unusual time on our campus,” Elmore said in a statement on the school website. “We have a lot of people who are traveling and some people who are celebrating the end of final exams. I’d like everyone to please take a moment to pay our respects to the families of those who have been killed.”
Elmore said the school will provide counseling for those who need it.
Associated Press writer Nick Perry contributed to this story from Wellington, New Zealand; AP writer Rodrique Ngowi contributed from Boston.
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