Saturday, Jan. 17, 2004, was a clear and sunny day. Davenport seniors talked and laughed while squeezing fresh orange juice for brunch. Elm Street was unusually quiet as students recovered in their beds from the semester’s first night of partying, and the snow in the streets belied the warmer weather.
But for those who knew Kyle, Andrew, Nick, and Sean, Jan. 17 will always be a cold, bleak day.
This weekend, in Battell Chapel and in more private settings, students gathered to remember those who lost their lives in the accident.
Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the car accident that killed driver Sean Fenton ’04 and passengers Kyle Burnat ’05, Andrew Dwyer ’05, and Nicholas Grass ’05. Zachery Bradley ’05, Cameron Fine ’06, Christopher Gary ’06, Brett Smith ’06 and Eric Wenzel ’04 also sustained injuries in the accident. The students were returning early in the morning from a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity event in New York City when their car struck a jackknifed tractor-trailer lying across I-95.
Several hundred members of the Yale community, including friends and family of the victims as well as survivors of the accident, attended a memorial service in Battell Chapel Saturday afternoon. All who took the podium talked about the void in their lives following the accident.
“I still can’t take those guys off my buddy list on IM or off my cell phone,” Stephanie Blake ’05 said. “Throughout the past year, going out on a Wednesday or a Saturday night just doesn’t feel the same without them.”
Wenzel lost all memories of the month before the accident and did not emerge from his coma until late February.
“I realized soon after I woke up that I wasn’t dreaming, and that worst of all, I had lost four close friends in this tragic accident,” Wenzel said Saturday.
Wenzel returned to campus to attend the Jonathan Edwards senior dinner and graduation and is scheduled to graduate this year. He also rejoined the football team, on which he was a fullback before the accident, in a coaching position.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my four brothers,” Wenzel said.
Not everyone involved in the accident has returned to campus. Smith, who spent three weeks in a coma, continues to recover.
Bradley, Fine and Gary were released from area hospitals in the days following Jan. 17, 2003. Fine and Gary returned to school last spring.
At the DKE fraternity house, the brothers held a solemn and contemplative day of remembrance on Friday. Events in memory of the four brothers have been added to rush week at the fraternity, DKE President John Harabedian ’04 said.
“The mood was somber. [The anniversary] opened up some new wounds. But, today is better,” Harabedian said Monday.
At Davenport College’s Saturday morning brunch, students toasted the memory of Fenton with freshly squeezed orange juice at the first annual “Sean Fenton-Davenport College Florida Orange Juicing Festival.” Fenton’s family donated funds for the event, meant to celebrate Fenton’s love of sharing his passion for food with friends.
Before the crash that claimed his life, Fenton ordered a crate of Florida oranges to be delivered to Davenport friends the day of the crash. Fenton never got to enjoy the oranges with his friends, and, oddly enough, the oranges themselves never arrived.
Zachary Jones ’05, a friend of Fenton’s, made orange juice on Saturday at one of three automatic orange juice squeezers in the Davenport Dining Hall.
“He loved these oranges,” Jones said. “And it’s nice we can remember him in an alternative way.”
Many students talked about how they had been moved to change their attitudes towards life as a result of the accident. Nicholas Sinatra ’03, the former president of DKE, said that following the accident, he turned down a job on Wall Street and decided to work for the public-service oriented New York Office of Economic Development.
“Going out there and making a difference in someone’s life will help with [the grieving] process,” Sinatra said.
Ultimately, though, much of that process remains solitary. At the memorial, Bradley recalled sitting on a warm beach with his best friend, Grass, the summer before the accident. Grass commented that these were the days the two would miss during the long New Haven winter.
“But I never could have imagined how cold these winters could be,” Bradley said.