Boston U student recovering after NZ crash kills 3

By NICK PERRY,Associated Press Updated at 2012-05-14 03:28:11 +0000

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The parents of a Boston University student critically injured in a New Zealand minivan crash that killed three of her schoolmates have flown to the country to be by her side at a hospital.

Meg Theriault, 21, was in intensive care Monday. Four other students suffered less serious injuries when their minivan rolled over several times Saturday while they were traveling to a popular hiking spot.

Theriault suffered a serious head injury, a broken right arm and grazes over her body, her parents said in a statement.

"She is a fit and stubborn young woman and we know she is getting the best care," said Todd and Deb Theriault of Boston.

Boston University is mourning the three students killed: Austin Brashears, of Huntington Beach, Calif.; Daniela Lekhno, of Manalapan, N.J.; and Roch Jauberty, of Paris, France. Hundreds took part in a vigil at the school Saturday night.

"These things can happen when you've got international tourists on your roads, but obviously it's a great tragedy and our sympathies go out to the families," New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Television New Zealand's Breakfast show.

The school said 26 students were traveling in three vans on their way to walk the Tongariro Crossing, a hike across a volcanic crater that is rated as one of New Zealand's most spectacular.

One of the minivans drifted to the side of the road around 7:30 a.m., then rolled when the driver tried to correct course near the North Island vacation town of Taupo, New Zealand police said.

The driver of one of the other vans saw the crash in his mirror and pulled over. The driver of the third van didn't see the accident and continued to the planned destination. All three vehicles were driven by students.

"Our first impulse was to do whatever we could, but everyone had a sense of helplessness," Evan White, who was in the minivan that stopped, said in a story posted on the school's website. "I helped people away from the van. Others ran to a house to get help."

New Zealand police official Kevin Taylor said it was unclear why the van drifted to the side of the road. He said some students were thrown from the vehicle, indicating they may not have been wearing seat belts. An investigation into the accident is going to take several days, he said Monday.

Police said the driver was among those injured and was released from a hospital Saturday.

Meg Theriault was airlifted to Waikato Hospital and had surgery there Saturday, according to hospital spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill. She said two other women, one 20 and the other 21, remained hospitalized Monday in stable condition. The other two injured — a 20-year-old man and 20-year-old woman — were released Saturday.

All the students except Theriault were enrolled in a BU study abroad program in Auckland, the university said. Theriault was enrolled in a study abroad program in Sydney, Australia. Study abroad program executive director Bernd Widdig called the deaths were the worst tragedy to hit the program since it began in the 1980s.

White was quoted on BU's website as saying that the students in New Zealand were staying together in Auckland after the accident.

"Last night we all dragged our mattresses into the common room and slept in the same place just to show solidarity," he said. "We are just talking about it and trying to be very open. Hopefully everyone at BU can come to terms with it too, like we're trying to do here."

Efforts by The Associated Press to reach family members of Lekhno and Brashears were unsuccessful. Tori Pinheiro, a close friend of Brashears, fought back tears at Saturday's vigil as she told the crowd about an old voicemail he had left her.

"I listened to it four times, just to hear your voice," she said.


Associated Press writer Bridget Murphy in Boston, Mass., and Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.