The accident that killed Boston University students Daniela Lekhno, Roch Jauberty, and Austin Brashears, seriously injured Meg Theriault, and injured four others has haunted me since I read the news early last Saturday. Smart, opinionated, engaged, passionate Daniela impressed me indelibly when she was my student in spring 2011. Trite as it is to say, I cannot believe she is gone. She was not on a law track but I hoped to persuade her to take one of my electives because I wanted to experience her again as a student. Her loss, and the loss of those who died with her, is beyond measure. The world is a poorer, meaner place because of it.
I am haunted also by the randomness of this accident’s consequences. Apparently the van hit gravel on the side of the road, the driver over-corrected, and the van rolled. At 21 I was in a similar accident. A group of us–I recall 8 or 9–were driving from Boston to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in my friend’s cargo van, which had two bucket seats in front and nothing but space behind. On I-95 about 50 miles south of D.C., around 6 am, a gust of wind rocked the van, pushing it to the right. The driver turned the wheel to the left to pull us back into the passing lane. The van’s steering linkage was loose, the front wheels did not respond immediately, and he turned the steering wheel more. The van started to skid to the right so he turned the wheel right, but too hard. The van swayed right, swayed left, started to lean, and flipped. I remember the loud bang each time we hit, and wondered if there would be an enormous final crash when a tractor-trailer plowed into us or we burst into flames. There wasn’t. The van came to rest on its side in the breakdown lane, its nose pointing at the southbound traffic. Inside was a jumble of people, backpacks, sleeping bags, and suitcases. Someone opened the rear door. We helped each other outside. The driver and front passenger exited through the opening left by the shattered windshield. The van was destroyed. The van’s battery–it lived behind the driver’s seat–had torn loose and strewn acid around the interior–something we discovered later when holes appeared in our jeans and jackets. We were shaken and bruised, but the worst injury was to the van’s owner, a small cut over his right eye from flying glass that required one small bandage. Eight or nine people, two seats (the driver and front passenger had buckled their belts shortly before the crash because of the strong winds buffeting the van), everyone else sitting or lying around an empty cargo space, and no serious injuries.
It could have been worse, but it wasn’t. There’s no reason. There may be explanations for escaping unscathed based on how everyone was positioned inside, and why the doors did not open while we rolled, and the light early morning traffic, but those are all random distinctions. There’s no meaning as to why one accident ended in tragedy and another ended as a colorful tale from my youth. This juxtaposition haunts me. Not every accident like this tears out the hearts of the victims’ families, friends, and community. It is unspeakably sad that this one did.