Tragedy at tailgate leaves one dead

UPDATE: 11:57 a.m. A U-Haul truck driven by a Yale undergraduate struck three people, killing one, shortly before 10 a.m. today at the tailgate before the Yale-Harvard football game, New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said.

At around 9:49 a.m., a U-Haul swerved and accelerated into the Yale Bowl’s D-Lot, Hartman said, hitting the three victims before crashing into a smaller U-Haul. Nancy Barry, a 30-year-old woman from Salem, Mass., was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and pronounced dead at 10:16 a.m.

The section of the tailgate where the collision occurred was closed off so an NHPD accident reconstruction team could investigate, Hartman said. Police took Brendan Ross ’13, who was driving the vehicle at the time of the incident, to NHPD headquarters on Union Avenue for questioning. Ross is not currently in custody and has not been charged with anything related to the incident.

When reached by phone Sunday morning, Ross declined to comment.

A second victim, 30-year-old Sarah Short SOM ’13, is in a serious but stable condition at Y-NHH. The third victim, Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach, was taken to St. Raphael’s Hospital and treated for minor injuries, Hartman confirmed.

Further details on the incident will not be available in the next few days, until the NHPD completes its full forensics investigation, Hartman said.

The U-Haul that struck the victims was bound for a tailgate put on by the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon. Drew Marconi ’13, a Sig Ep vice president and spokesman, did not confirm that the U-Haul was a Sig Ep vehicle, but said in a statement that the fraternity was cooperating with law enforcement officials as they investigate the incident.

“We’re deeply saddened by the events of today’s tailgate, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families,” Marconi said. “Our leadership board and national representatives are currently working to understand the details of the situation and assess what has transgressed. We hope to know more soon.”

Angela Ramirez ’12, who was roughly 10 feet away from the truck as it was accelerating, said the U-Haul’s approach and the noise of its acceleration caused a commotion in the nearby crowd.

“There was a wave of screams when we saw the truck was going through the crowd, then a lot of ‘Oh my God’ and ‘What the hell is going on?’” Ramirez said. “There was one girl by me who was hyperventilating because she couldn’t find her friend and thought she wasn’t okay. There was another guy who couldn’t find his friend and started crying.”

The driver looked appalled after the incident, Ramirez said, and seemed unsure what had just happened.

Tiffany Ho ’12, who was in line for an identification check when the accident occurred, said she remembered seeing the victims’ bodies on the ground, one of which was not moving.

The victims were quickly surrounded by onlookers, who were “all panicking and really confused,” Paul Robalino ’12 said, explaining that no one realized what had happened.

Police and paramedics responded quickly, Ramirez said. Multiple witnesses said they saw a police officer perform CPR on one of the victims for 10 minutes.

Ramirez said the police told tailgaters to go to the other side of the lot if they wanted to enter the tailgate grounds, and asked onlookers to leave when they began to place the victims in ambulances.

“Some people were crying, some people were in such shock they didn’t move anywhere, but most people went to the other side to get into the tailgate,” Ramirez said.

After ambulances took the victims to the hospital, those at the tailgate were unsure what to do, Ho said, adding that many students did not feel comfortable continuing to party after the incident.

“Pretty immediately the cops came and they put yellow tape all around the area,” Robalino said. “For a while we were all like ‘This is really uncomfortable, we can’t keep drinking or eating because that would be really inappropriate.’”

But as conflicting reports of the incident spread among students and alumni, the tailgate continued throughout the morning largely uninterrupted. The music stopped after the crash, but as rumors spread that the injuries were not serious, the music and partying resumed, Robalino said.

In a Saturday afternoon statement, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the University “will be undertaking a full review of the policies and regulations relating to tail-gating before athletics events.”

“Our efforts now focus on providing any support needed to the members of our community and to our many guests from Cambridge and elsewhere,” Conroy wrote in the statement.

At the game, action halted and the crowd hushed at halftime as spectators in the Yale Bowl stopped for a moment of silence. The announcer, Mark Ryba, delivered a statement from the University confirming that one victim had died and two were injured in the crash, and offering condolences to those involved.

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