In the hours after a car accident that would take the lives of four Yale students and injure five others, University administrators began the arduous tasks of planning counseling and memorial services, contacting family members and visiting hospitalized students.
Administrators relied on a network of college masters and deans, freshmen counselors, administrative staff and students for information and ideas for appropriate responses throughout the day.
Officials first learned of the accident at 6:30 a.m. Friday when Yale police called Ezra Stiles Master Traugott Lawler. University Secretary Linda Lorimer, Yale President Richard Levin and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead all learned early that morning. Police told them there had been three fatalities, Levin said.
By 7:30 a.m., masters and deans had contacted freshman counselors. Stiles freshman counselor Rachel Alpert ’03 said she went to check on freshmen she knew were rushing Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.
A short time later, Lawler, Jonathan Edwards Master Gary Haller and Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt visited the six students hospitalized after the accident, who were in three different hospitals in the Bridgeport area.
Levin said he knew the names of the three students who died at the scene of the crash by about 8:30 a.m., but was unable to release them to the public.
“One complication Friday morning was that the state troopers did not want us to call the parents of the deceased until they had positively identified the bodies, and that led to some delay,” Levin said. “We would have preferred to have released those names sooner but we had to wait several hours.”
Members of DKE visited hospitals and relayed information to Calhoun Master William Sledge, Lawler said in an e-mail.
“Even as they realized what a loss they suffered, the guys in DKE were very good at getting the word to us,” Lawler said.
Levin said Lorimer assembled a team including Brodhead, college masters and deans, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, University Chaplain Jerry Streets and chief psychiatrist Lorraine Siggins. The officers met at Woodbridge Hall and worked throughout the day. Yale Athletics Director Tom Beckett also was involved in formulating the University’s response.
“It’s just the kind of thing where the story comes into focus minute by minute,” Brodhead said.
Coaches spent the morning contacting teammates of students involved in the accident, Levin said.
“We were especially concerned about the DKE house and all Yale athletes because we knew the friendships of the students [in the accident] would be concentrated there,” Levin said.
Administrators also decided to postpone the evening’s basketball games and cancel the scheduled swim meet.
“We moved as fast as we could to get people moved around where we thought they would be most needed,” Levin said.
By noon, Levin said administrators had planned the evening gathering and the masters each had a plan for the rest of the day. He said the response was similar to that of Sept. 11, 2001, when masters and deans reached out to the students of their respective colleges.
At 1:55 p.m., Brodhead sent the first of several e-mails to Yale College students. He explained that there had been an accident with three immediate fatalities, but did not release names. He invited students to a gathering at 7:30 that evening in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“The main thing is we wanted to get people together,” Brodhead said. “It was a blow to our community — I think everyone has been overwhelmed by the feeling of togetherness.”
In a later e-mail Friday afternoon, Brodhead reported that Nicholas Grass ’05 had died. But, minutes later, Brodhead realized that he had received erroneous information from the hospital and sent a correction: Grass remained in critical condition. Grass died Saturday.
“We wanted to send a message out as soon as possible,” Brodhead said. “You want to break all the bad news you can at the same time.”
After the Lee Amphitheater gathering, masters held receptions for students in their homes.
Lorimer worked with families on Friday and Saturday to plan memorial services, Levin said. Officials spoke with the students’ families about whether they wanted a large number of students at the services. University officials arranged to provide transportation for students to these memorials. Levin purchased plane tickets for teammates, coaches and Calhoun College Dean Stephen Lassonde dean to attend the funeral for Kyle Burnat ’05 in Atlanta Monday.
Lawler said he visited freshmen Saturday night and spoke with a baseball player and a couple of students who were rushing DKE.
“I tried to think of people in the college who were most affected and get to them,” he said. “Everybody’s handled it in their own way — people are coping, certainly.”
Saybrook Master Mary Miller said the Yale College Dean’s office sent an e-mail to all instructors in Yale College “alerting us to that we need to be paying attention and thinking about the special circumstances of so many students involved.”
College masters invited students living off campus to eat in the dining hall this weekend. Miller asked the fellows to eat in the dining hall so they were available to students.
“It will take a very long time for people to assimilate this blow,” Brodhead said. “Sorrow and tragedy are the profoundest medium of education.”