Rainof MED ’08 dies after crash

Less than one day after being struck by a car near the Yale School of Medicine campus, Mila Rainof MED ’08 died Sunday morning at Yale-New Haven hospital. She was 27.

The Santa Monica, Calif., native had likely been exercising at the Harkness Dormitory at 367 Cedar St. prior to the accident. On her way back to her York Street apartment at 9:45 a.m. Saturday, Rainof was hit by a vehicle at the intersection of South Frontage Road and York Street.

“Yale feels terrible; it’s very rare that a medical student dies while at such a crucial period in their life,” School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said. “It was very tragic that she died at such a young age so suddenly. We’ve all been stunned all weekend.”

Rainof received both a bachelor’s degree of the arts and a bachelor’s degree in the sciences from Stanford University in 2003. The fourth-year medical student was set to begin her residency in California at Alameda County Medical Center’s Highland General Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine this fall.

On Saturday morning, a large truck pulling out of a nearby hospital loading dock obstructed Rainof’s view of oncoming traffic on South Frontage Road, Assistant Dean for Medical School Student Affairs Nancy Angoff said. Shortly after the truck pulled away, the light turned green and Rainof ran to avoid traffic, she said.

Two sport utility vehicles at the front of the intersection were able to swerve around Rainof, but the driver of a sports car directly behind the SUVs, whose view of the street was blocked, accelerated in order to get into the left lane onto the highway. In the process, the car hit her “with a good bit of force,” Angoff said although she said she did not know the speed at which the car was moving.

Rainof was hit so hard that she flipped in the air and landed on her head, Angoff said. She incurred serious head injuries at the scene.

After being rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital, Angoff said, doctors transferred Rainof to the neural intensive care unit and tried desperately to ease swelling around her brain. Rainof remained alive overnight, but neurologists who arrived the next morning pronounced her brain dead.

In keeping with their daughter’s commitment to helping and saving others, Rainof’s parents chose to have her organs salvaged for donation, Angoff said.

After the hospital performs an autopsy, Angoff added, Rainof’s parents plan to have their daughter cremated and the ashes brought back to California.

Students living in the area described the intersection as “dangerous” and traffic in the area as reckless.

University spokesman Tom Conroy told the News on Sunday afternoon that Rainof’s parents had been informed of the accident by the University. Her parents and boyfriend, who were at the hospital overnight Saturday, could not be reached for comment Sunday evening.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said Saturday that the New Haven Police Department would release further details about the incident Monday.

A Saturday-afternoon press release stated that the NHPD’s accident-investigation team “will be interviewing the driver and witnesses” to the incident.

“This is a tragic loss for all of us who came to know her and admire her and love her over the four years that she was here,” Angoff said. “She was a wonderful student and friend to students and she will be grieved and missed by faculty, staff and students — it will be a very difficult time for the graduating class to come to terms with her loss.”

The University plans to hold a community meeting today for the medical school and Yale-New Haven Hospital communities to assist friends with the grieving process.


  • Jack

    What a tragedy. The latest in a series. This is a city where cars don't want to stop for pedestrians, and pedestrians don't want to stop for cars. Totally predictable.

  • A Reader in New Haven

    Some thoughts:

    perhaps michael piscitelli, the director of new haven's dept. of transportation, traffic, and parking, should hear these concerns. please inundate him with email at: mpiscite@newhavenct.net


    Why doesn't NHPD enforce traffic laws? Oh, because the city doesn't get the fines from traffic violations. Those go straight to the state, unlike parking tickets (which is why the city enforces those so scrupulously). Since the city of New Haven is obviously incompetent and broke, it's up to YALE to put pressure, even put up money, to enforce the traffic laws and fix the dangerous intersections. That would be a serious investment in students and employees' safety. Temple and Grove? Elm and York? just wait, someone will die there soon enough.


    If the driver had been going the speed limit, 25MPH, it is not likely that Mila would have died. Very few people hit at 20-25MPH die, that is why the speed limit in our city is set at 25 in most places. When people are hit at 30 or 35MPH, they are basically guaranteed to die. It is basic physics.

    If it is found that the driver of the sports car was traveling even 1MPH above the posted speed limit, he or she should be tried for murder and sent to prison for 20 years. We need to rigorously enforce the speed limit, and one way to do that is to try speeders as felons if they kill or injure anyone while speeding.

    Also for the above reason, citywide speed limits should be reduced from 25MPH to 20MPH.

    Yale-New Haven Hospital is supposed to be an institution dedicated to saving lives. How come they don't care that people are being hit and killed around their hospital facility? They could easily pressure the city and state for traffic calming if they wanted to. The maximum speed on the streets surrounding the hospital and the university need to be reduced to 10MPH through speed bumps and better road design.

  • Tom

    This is unacceptable. Despite the mounting number of fatalities, the NHPD continues to ignore traffic violations throughout the city. How many people have to be killed before the police decide that this is a problem?

    In collisions involving pedestrians, once vehicle speeds exceed 20 mph, the odds of a fatality increase exponentially. The speed limit in downtown needs to be reduced to 20 mph and the police need to enforce the traffic laws.

  • The Lorax

    Well said #2, this is just awful and my deepest sympathies to her family and friends. I do have some sympathy for the person who hit her, too. A quick decision to accelerate that has probably been made before without consequence now has a terrible one. Presumably if they have any conscious, this will tear them up for the rest of their lives.

    I've been chronically frustrated with speeding in our state. We seem to live in a society where one's inability to manage time necessarily leads to increased risk for everyone else. I say, if you're late, suck it up and be late. It is no one's fault but your own and your inability to manage your time shouldn't put me at risk. I challenge everyone to drive the speed limit. It is a big behavioral adjustment and it takes a long time to break the habit, but then you will end up with some zen-like peace as you let go of control, aggression, frustration and the anxiety of not being somewhere you need to be. Turn the burden of being on time inward instead of pushing it out onto others and endangering them.

    Other, more forward-thinking communities, seem to understand the fundamental concept that the individual is more important than the car. There are lots of communities where cars are banned or they have traffic humps (not bumps) or curves and bump outs in the road that necessitate slowing down. Around here, it seems that the car always trumps the person. The automobile's right of way, or even more precious, commerce's right of way, is perceived as the natural order of things and that is just so wrong. It is destroying life on a human scale. We need to change this imbalance.

  • Alum

    What a tragedy! But let's not get lost in our feelings of sadness here. This was not murder, nor was it likely vehicular manslaughter. It sounds like an unfortunate, awful accident. I'm sure the driver of the car that hit her will live with this on their conscience forever.

  • Y'06

    #2-- I agree that the traffic laws in the city need to be enforced more vigorously, but disagree that the driver in this case should take the complete fall for what is obviously a more widespread problem.

    The driver of the sports car only would have seen Mila after the two cars in front of it swerved out of the way. The reaction time for this driver was likely extremely limited. One could make any number of arguments-- maybe the 2 SUVs should have slammed on their brakes--maybe they would have been rear-ended, but no one would have died. I would speculate the reason this was not an option is because the two SUVs were traveling too fast to stop without hitting her. In that case, they're just as at fault for the accident.

    I don't want to place any blame on Mila for this at all-- but the circumstances point to this being a mixture of both a more widespread problem (speeding within the city) and unfortunate circumstances (Mila was in the road after a truck had been obstructing her view. If the truck hadn't been there, maybe she'd have been ok. Or maybe she shouldn't have wandered into the street-- a lot of unfortunate circumstances coming together at once).

    The solution in my mind? Fine the hell out of the driver who hit her, suspend the license, but don't throw them in jail. Nearly every single person travels ~5 mph over the speed limit in most areas, in cities and on freeways, so acting like the driver was somehow worse than everyone else is taking a dangerous "holier than thou" approach to the situation. (If the driver was driving at a reckless speed of >10-15 over the speed limit, this would definitely change my opinion)

    What else to do?
    - Install a timed light on the ramp onto the freeway such that every car merging onto the freeway from Frontage has to stop on the ramp anyway, removing incentive to accelerate on Frontage. These are most often used to control merging during rush hour in some places, but at this particular area of the city, could control the speed of the adjacent road
    - What about pedestrian overpasses or tunnels on some of these major intersections? Expensive, yes, but well worth it when compared to the cost of human life

  • DesignNewHaven

    Very eloquent posts, Lorax and Y-06. I hope that you will consider sharing your ideas and concerns with the City of New Haven, either through your Alderperson or through the City Plan, Economic Development, and Transportation offices. If you would like, you can also discuss this topic in more detail at http://www.designnewhaven.com/2008/04/pedestrian-fatality-highlights-safety.html .

  • SL

    While I felt sad for Mila's family, I also felt that some of the comments here holding only the sports car driver responsible for the accident is not fair. True, I walk through that intersection everyday, and I know how aggressive the traffic is. More than 50% of time, when the light turns red on S Frontage road, there are drivers who still hit the gas and run the red light. There is "No Turn on Red" sign for York St traffic, but some drivers still turn right on red light. As a pedestrian, I know you always have to make sure all the cars are stopped before you take that first step across the road (even with the "WALK" light already on). On the other hand, many pedestrians do like to take their chances to J-Walking. If more than one car from S Frontage Road direction had to swirl around to avoid hitting Mila, traffic on S Frontage Rd probably had the green light and Mila should not have taken the chance of crossing the road at that moment (even if the truck blocked the traffic momentarily). People don't take J-walking seriously, but it is dangerous. In some states, pedestrians can get fined for J-walking. Just imagine the SUVs who swirled around to avoid hitting Mila could have lost control and flipped over even at low speed. The danger is not just to the pedestrain but to drivers as well.

  • Anonymous

    People are always turning right on red when there is a sign that says "no turn on red" at that very intersection. I can't stand people that do that!

  • Lorenzo

    The University and Yale-New Haven Hospital need to collaborate on a major traffic calming initiative with the City of New Haven. There are many frail elderly, disabled, and patients crossing the numerous streets on the hospital campus and there are no existing signs and/or barriers for traffic abatement. I cannot comprehend the lack of a posted "Hospital Zone" speed limit in this area. This is a tragic and needless loss of human life.

  • Anonymous

    The ER physician on call (who was also Mila's mentor) said exactly that: it was a green light for the driver who hit her, so technically the driver is not completely at fault. Still, it was an unfortunate combination of circumstances; her view was blocked by a tractor-trailer, and the driver's view was partially blocked by the two SUVs in front.

    I cross this intersection every day to work. I have jaywalked at times. I hope we are all more careful after this. My heart goes out to the family; it's such a heartbreaking tragedy.

  • med student

    to SL: once a pedestrian puts a foot down on the road, they have the right of way regardless of the light. rather than trying to end j-walking, which only happens because we care more about car-traffic than pedestrian-traffic when we time lights, we should look for ways to force vehicles to drive more safely.

  • anonymous

    Other states, such as Massachusetts and New Hampshire, show respect for pedestrians by posting signs at crosswalks warning drivers that pedestrians have the right of way and instructing drivers to yield to pedestrians. This serves as a reminder to the driver and also slows down traffic. Such a sign may not have helped here because there was a walk signal; however, there are many spots in New Haven with marked crosswalks on the road surface (e.g., Temple Street near the 3 churches), where such signage--presently nonexistent-- could make it safer for pedestrians. The only good that can come of this tragedy is if law enforcement and our legislators try to prevent these accidents in the future.

  • Anonymous

    This unfortunate accident was all caught on a surveillance video. The driver was not at fault and had the green light. I'm sure he is having a hard time dealing with this.

    I feel for Mila's family. She was someone whom I knew and she will be sadly missed. She was always smiling when we saw her at school or working in the hospital. I feel for the people who had to treat her in the ED because they knew her -- emergency medicine was her passion, so she knew almost every resident and attending in that place.

    My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.

  • Anonymous

    Sweden has adopted a plan called Vision Zero which is taking steps to ensure that zero, imagine that - zero! - people will die in motor vehicle fatalities in 2020. Sweden is a country of 9 million. Connecticut is a state of 5 million: why can't we adopt a Vision Zero for Connecticut? Traffic accidents are not a force of nature - even when no particular actor is "at fault", as here, there are ways of preventing the accidents: safer crosswalks, better traffic enforcement, speed bumps etc. etc.

    Take a look: the Connecticut General Assembly has taken a look at Sweden's Vision Zero and came up with this report… Let's get our state behind this. http://www.cga.ct.gov/2007/rpt/2007-R-0635.htm

  • Anonymous

    *sigh* A student just died. RIP Rainof.

  • Anonymous

    This is a sad tragedy. Any loss of life is, but the blame is slightly missed placed. People don't have the right away because they step into traffic. That is the reason we have traffic signals. Red means stop and green means go. When we violate this, we have to accept responsible for this. It is easy to blame others when someone is hurt or killed, but we seem to have lossed the abilty to see our own faults regarding our injuries or short comings.

  • Friend of Mila

    What a tragic loss. Mila, you are in in my thoughts and prayers.

  • YSM

    #17 I completely agree.

    However, my thoughts and prayers go out to James and all of Mila's family. She was a great person and would have undoubtedly gone on to save numerous lives in her future.

  • New Haven is HORRIBLE

    What a tragedy! Drivers in New Haven are always amazingly reckless and in a hurry and there are little to no provisions to help students get to and from buildings safely on foot or bike. Sure, parts of the campus are truly urban, but with no enforcement, drivers accelerate and swerve rather than slow down or stop. Just a month ago my car was run off the road by an SUV swerving along the sidewalk to get past a few cars and through a yellow light. The SUV turned onto Frontage while I turned the other way, right next to a police car. I stopped and mentioned the description of the vehicle, where it was heading and the crazy maneuvers traffic had just tried to avoid. The policeman shrugged and said, "Eh, it's New Haven." Apparently even the enforcers EXPECT cars to put our lives at danger. Disgusting and pathetic. But then again, that's New Haven for you.

  • Alex Lipovsky

    I urge everyone reading this to become more conscious of how dangerous street traffic really is. NEVER count on the drivers to ensure your safety. Wait for a while before crossing an intersection to let all the cars pass EVEN IF the pedestrian light is green. Look around: there will always be cars crossing the intersection at the last moment!

    As a Yale grad student who crosses this very same street where Mila was struck all the time I can testify to the dangers inherent in counting on the drivers to stop in time.

    Although I did not know her personally, I am shocked and depressed by the passing of this talented and promising individual. Make no mistake: any of us could have been her.

    The city of New Haven should do a better job of encouraging safe driving in dangerous areas such as this and we, personally, should become more cautious pedestrians.

  • Anonymous

    #17 (and others):
    If I read the description in the article correctly, it sounds like the driver of the car that hit her was accelerating without actually being able to see what was ahead: the driver's "view of the street was blocked," and he or she "accelerated in order to get into the left lane onto the highway." (And again, according to #11, "the driver's view was partially blocked by the two SUVs in front.")

    If that's true--if the driver was speeding up *without being able to see clearly what was ahead*--then the driver was acting irresponsibly. That's because it is the driver's responsibility, first and foremost, to do everything possible to avoid hitting pedestrians. This is not an opinion. This is directly out of the CT driver's manual: "The law says who must yield the right-of-way. It does not give anyone the right-of-way. You [the driver] must do everything you can to prevent striking a pedestrian or another vehicle, regardless of the circumstances." (http://www.ct.gov/dmv/lib/dmv/20/29/ctdriver.pdf, p. 57)

    It's that last sentence that really matters. Doing "everything you can to prevent striking a pedestrian" means *not accelerating when you can't see what's in front of you*. Questions about who had right-of-way, who had the green light, don't matter: "regardless of the circumstances."

    I don't know any more details. But I do know that you never--NEVER--speed up when you can't see properly. This is why.

  • Usha

    I agree with # 12… once a pedestrian puts a foot down on the road, they have the right of way regardless of the light…. The driver who hit Mila could have and should have applied brakes to slow the speed, if he/she was careful. This is a campus area. Every sensible driver should know this.
    I met Mila for a short time in May 2008. She was a wonderful person and a good friend of my son. My heart goes to her family and her friends.

  • US

    Totally agree with you #22……

    never--NEVER--speed up when you can't see properly.

  • Yale medical student

    Mila Rainof was a warm, happy, caring, enthusiastic, bright young woman about to start her career as an emergency medicine physician in CA. She was 27. She had so hopeful a life in front of her and was loved by so many people.

    It makes sense to ask why she was taken away from us. While a part of our healing is moving away from a focus on blame, including blame of the motorist, some questions need to be answered to ensure we honor Mila.

    There is a movement within medicine to systematically understand errors and dangerous near-misses to correct systems that make human errors more likely. According to the US Dept of Transportation, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for every age from 2 through 34. Issues of traffic safety are life and death. Neglect has too high a cost.

    Many Yale students have raised concerns about pedestrian safety in New Haven. More than a year ago, a medical student suffered injuries when hit by a truck while riding his bicycle in New Haven. In 2006, a public health student was seriously injured at the same major intersection where Mila died. Despite student organizing after that accident, the city of New Haven was not willing to invest the necessary funds to make the intersection safe at that time. I hope they will reconsider.

    Just Thursday, our medical school's Committee on the Wellbeing of Students reported to the Medical School Council that pedestrian safety at that corner was a major concern of medical students. The committee had worked hard in the preceding months to get a street light for the intersection.

    Many on campus have expressed the hope that Mila's legacy include a pedestrian-safe New Haven, or at very least, a pedestrian-safe Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale medical school campus. Right now the focus of our community is grieving our terrible loss, but soon we hope for action from Yale and from the city to keep students, patients, staff of the hospital and school, and residents of the community safe. Our state government also has a role to play.

    Yale has tens of billions in it's endowment; if the city of New Haven does not have the funds to make the area around the hospital safe, surely Yale can invest a small percentage of its endowment to prevent senseless tragedies like this one. In keeping with Yale's commitment to sustainability, Yale University could initiate a major pedestrian safety initiative and fund expanded access to car-alternatives. Instead of increasing motor vehicle traffic in the area, we should reduce it.

    Finally, several of us are also frustrated that the national media is covering a controversial art project by a Yale undergrad with virtually no mention of Mila's story. Please help shift the tide in this coverage by encouraging the press to cover the life of this extraordinary young woman, and to ask important questions about how deaths like hers can be prevented.

  • anonynous

    while this is a tragedy some pedestrians don't obey traffic signals either. new haven is not new york where you cross the street and pedestrians have the right of way even if the light is green. there are traffic signals along with timed pedestrian signals that tell us when it is safe to cross. unfortunately, the majority of accidents happen around the yale campus where alot of the residents are from out of town and unfamilliar with the traffic rules.