Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

'Students were far too young to die'

Boston University students including Tori Pinheiro, left, and Austin Brashears' girlfriend, hold a candlelight vigil on Marsh Plaza at Boston University.
Photo / AP
Boston University students including Tori Pinheiro, left, and Austin Brashears' girlfriend, hold a candlelight vigil on Marsh Plaza at Boston University. Photo / AP

The parents of three American students killed in yesterday's horror van smash are making their way to New Zealand.

Boston University students Daniela Rosanna Lekhno, 20, Roch Jauberty, 21, and Austin Brashears, 21, died after being thrown from a van which left State Highway 46 and rolled three times yesterday near Rangipo, 10km south of Turangi.

It is the latest tragedy for a university mired with grief this year - with one student murdered, two male hockey players charged with sexual assault, and a student seriously injured after jumping from a burning building.

Students held a candlelight vigil and remembrance on campus today to pay tribute to their friends.

The Rev. Robert Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel, led the Saturday evening vigil to the victims.

"As soon as you're born, you're [in line] to die,'' he said, "but these students were far too young to die.''

Since the campus is deserted due to the finale of this semester's classes and exams, students have turned online to post their tributes and feelings.

The Boston University (BU) website reports Joshua Wright, who had taken a class with victim Daniela Lekhno, as saying she was "just honestly the brightest person.''

He wrote: "Although she was quiet, every single time she smiled, every time she laughed, you knew it was just so genuine. It's really hard to lose such bright people, such positive people.''

Kaylee Bates spent autumn in BU's Sydney, Australia programme, in which one of the injured students, is enrolled.

"I can kind of picture myself being there, because my friends were doing the same thing, road-tripping around all of New Zealand.

"I think you always hope that it won't happen; it sounds like it was just a freak car accident that could happen here.''

Deans of the victims' schools took on the tasks of emailing alerts to students, readying memorials, and guiding grieving members of the BU community to counselling services.

"Any harm that comes to any Boston University student touches us all,'' Dean Virginia Sapiro told the BU website.

The tragedy occurred when the students' van was travelling in convoy with another people mover at around 7.30am yesterday, heading to Tongariro Crossing where they intended to tramp.

But as they approached the turn-off to the walk entrance on SH 47 near Turangi, the driver of the second vehicle drifted into gravel on the side of the road and lost control.

Police say the driver "overcorrected'' by pulling the steering wheel too hard, and the vehicle, with eight people on board, flipped more than three times, flinging two passengers to their deaths.

One more died inside the van.

The possessions of their holiday - cameras, backpacks and iPhones - were strewn along the road.

Police confirmed that the driver survived but would not release any details about the driver's condition.

Another student, a 21-year-old woman, who is from Boston University but on Sydney's student exchange programme, was air-lifted from the crash site to hospital.

Today (Sunday) she remained in a critical condition in Waikato Hospital's intensive care unit after overnight surgery, according to the Waikato District Health Board.

Her family has asked that she is not named.

Two other women, Alys McAlpine and Kathy Moldawer, aged 20 and 21, remain in Rotorua Hospital in a stable condition, while Stephen Houseman, 20, and Emily Melton, also 20, were treated at the Taupo Hospital emergency department and later discharged.

All of the students except the woman in a critical condition were enrolled in a Boston University study abroad program in Auckland, says Bernd Widdig, executive director of BU's study abroad programs,

The website named the students travelling in the other people mover - none of whom were injured - as Dustin Holstein, Giselle Moreno, Keely McCaffery, Kyle Snow, Hayley Ross and Evan White.

Today, police interviewed the traumatised students to try to establish how the crash occurred.

AA spokesman Dylan Thomsen described the triple fatality as tragic, while other road safety groups fear it might have been "avoidable''.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said since police revealed some of the victims were thrown from the vehicle, it suggests they may not have wearing their seatbelts.

Safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson, thought the poor design of the road might have accounted for the smash.

"It's been known for decades that if the edge of a road drops down into gravel, then vehicles that drift over the edge of the road are likely to drop one wheel into gravel, slide and then lose control. That appears to be exactly what happened with the Turangi tragedy.''

He says similar tragedies can be avoided by extending the asphalt by 300mm beyond the edge of the verge-side white line, or by putting in rumble strips.

"While the details of this crash are still sketchy, it appears that poor road design has contributed to this tragedy,'' Mr Matthew-Wilson said.

"It's possible that the accident would not have occurred at all if the road had been built with safety as a higher priority.''

- APNZ

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