BU student in coma after deadly New Zealand crash

May 15, 2012 - 1:35 AM
New Zealand-US Students Killed

This undated family photo shows Meg Theriault, 21, a Boston University student injured in a crash in New Zealand on Saturday morning, May 12, 2012. Theriault was in intensive care Sunday at Waikato Hospital in New Zealand after surgery the previous day for her injuries. Three students were killed and four others were injured when their minivan rolled over on their way to walk the Tongariro Crossing. (AP Photo/Theriault Famly)

BOSTON (AP) — While studying abroad in Australia, Boston University junior Meg Theriault made sure to send flowers to her mother in Massachusetts before Mother's Day.

The bouquet arrived two days ahead of Sunday's holiday, with a note from the 21-year-old saying she would celebrate with her mom, Deb, when she arrived back in the United States this week.

Instead, Theriault's aunt Terri Killam said Monday that her niece's parents now are by the student's side in a New Zealand hospital.

The college junior is in a medically induced coma following brain surgery Saturday in the wake of a minivan crash that killed three of her Boston University classmates and injured four others.

Theriault had been studying in Sydney since January, but had gone to New Zealand for the weekend to hike across a well-known volcanic crater with other BU students.

Killam said besides brain surgery, her niece also underwent an operation to fix her broken right arm. While the student's condition had somewhat stabilized, Killam said Waikato Hospital officials still were listing her niece in critical condition.

"When Meg wakes up, we'll see what else we have to do to get her home," said Killam, of Danvers, Mass. "... We've got hope because she's still with us."

The woman said her niece was tossed out the window in the crash, which interrupted what she called the trip of a lifetime for a loved one who'd sent home a video clip of herself bungee jumping.

Another student was driving the van when it crashed, and a Boston University spokesman said administrators will caution students against driving while studying abroad in the wake of the deadly wreck.

School spokesman Colin Riley said Monday that officials discourage students from driving while studying internationally, but that it isn't against policy. He said administrators review study abroad programs constantly, and don't anticipate changes after what he said was a terrible tragedy Saturday.

Four other students, including the van's driver, received moderate injuries in the crash. The driver and a second student were released from local hospitals Saturday while a third student was released Monday afternoon. A fourth student, a 20-year-old female, remained at Rotorua Hospital Tuesday in a stable condition, according to health officials.

All the students except for the two who remain in hospitals have returned to Auckland, officials said.

New Zealand police said the wreck happened when a minivan drifted to the side of the road, then rolled as the driver tried to correct course near the North Island vacation town of Taupo.

Boston University said 26 students were traveling in three minivans 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.

The cause of Saturday's crash remains under investigation. New Zealand police said some students were thrown from the vehicle, indicating they may not have been wearing seat belts.

The New Zealand university hosting U.S. students said they discourage international students from driving and will ratchet up those warnings in the future.

David Baker, director of Auckland University's international office, said he intends to step up warnings for international students not to drive because they may be unfamiliar with driving on the left side of the road or local conditions.

Hundreds took part in a Saturday evening vigil at Boston University to remember crash victims Austin Brashears, of Huntington Beach, Calif.; Daniela Lekhno, of Manalapan, N.J.; and Roch Jauberty, of Paris, France.

Boston University senior Howard Male, the outgoing student body president, said the school community has pulled together.

"We're all supporting each other around here, making sure we help each other work through it," Male said following news of Saturday's crash.

All of the students except Theriault were enrolled in a BU study abroad program in Auckland and were due to complete exams in a variety of disciplines in June, according to Baker.

He said students organized the hiking trip themselves and stayed in Taupo the night before the crash. Counseling is available for crash survivors at the school this week, he said, adding that the university will try to find alternate ways to give them academic credit if they want to go home early.

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Associated Press writer Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.