Crash claims three American students

21:27, May 13 2012
Austin Brashears
Austin Brashears

Austin Brashears' father feels like he has a hole in his heart, and Daniela Lekhno's father says his heart has exploded.

They are the grieving dads of two of the three American students killed in a crash near Turangi on Saturday.

On a six-month exchange with Auckland University, Austin Brashears, 21, Daniela Rosanna Lekhno, 20, and Roch Jauberty, 21, were part of a group of students in three vans on their way to walk the Tongariro Crossing.

Daniela Lekhno
Daniela Lekhno

On its website yesterday, Boston University said the first of the three vans carried along the road, not knowing what had happened.

A passenger in the second, Evan White, told the university that the driver of that van saw the crash in the rear view mirror and pulled over.

"We saw people lying in the road and saw wounded people and just felt kind of helpless. Our first impulse was to do whatever we could, but everyone had a sense of helplessness. I helped people away from the van. Others ran to a house to get help."


Roch Jauberty
Roch Jauberty

He said the group was staying together in Auckland and trying to support and help one another.

At a candle lit vigil held at Boston University on Saturday evening (US time), Mr Brashears' girlfriend Tori Pinheiro read out a poem he had written for her before leaving for his New Zealand adventure in January.

She smiled through tears as she described the way he introduced himself during orientation week at the university three years ago.

MOURNING: Boston University students at a candle light vigil on their campus after the deaths of three students in a car crash near Tongariro.
MOURNING: Boston University students at a candle light vigil on their campus after the deaths of three students in a car crash near Tongariro.

They had been inseparable ever since.

Mr Brashears' father Thomas Brashears wrote online that he was at a loss for words.

"There are things I wish I had done and said to you and now it's too late. There is a hole in my heart."

The father of Ms Lekhno said his "heart had exploded" to lose his daughter, who was loving her time in New Zealand.

University spokesman Colin Riley said around 250 students and teachers attended Saturday's vigil, and ongoing counselling was being provided in both Boston and Auckland for affected students.

"It's an absolute tragedy for these young people and their families. For many it would be the first loss like this they have suffered, to have a classmate ... taken away from them like this.

"You can see that written in their faces."

The trio were on their way to complete the Tongariro Crossing with 23 fellow exchange students when the people mover they were in drifted into gravel and rolled on a bend on State Highway 46 south of Turangi around 7.30am on Saturday morning.

They were thrown from the van, along with Margaret Theriault, 21, who remained in a critical condition at Waikato Hospital last night.

Former ambulance driver Kevin O'Brien and his eight-year-old daughter Michelle were first on the scene when the vehicle rolled outside their farm.

Michelle told 3 News the first thing she saw was a woman waving her arms and calling "stop".

"If I don't help them, there will be a lot of pain and so I tried to stop some of that pain," she told 3 News.

"There was blood streaming down here so I got a cloth and dabbed it on him very gently and then put first aid on it.

"I calmed a few people down and I told them it would be OK. But in the end a few things did not turn out OK."

Two female students in their 20s were in stable condition at Rotorua Hospital last night, while two others injured in the crash – a 20-year-old man and 20-year-old woman – were released on Saturday.

Police said the driver "overcorrected" by steering the wheel too hard, causing the vehicle to flip more than three times.

Police confirmed the driver survived, but would not release details about their condition.

Investigations into the crash, including whether driver error was a factor, were continuing.

Waikato Times