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Three Boston University students who were studying abroad in New Zealand, including a New Jersey native, were killed Saturday when their minivan crashed. At least five other students from the university, one of whom grew up on Long Island, were injured in the accident.
Daniela Lekhno, 20, of Manalapan, N.J., was among the three students pronounced dead at the scene, Boston University spokesman Colin Riley said. Stephen Houseman, of Massapequa, was taken to the hospital with three other students who suffered less serious injuries and one who was critically hurt. Houseman was released from the hospital later Saturday.
Roch Jauberty, 21, whose parents live in Paris, and Austin Brashears, 21, of Huntington Beach, Calif., were the other two who died in the crash, Riley said.
The group was taking a weekend trip to the countryside when their van drifted to the side of the road and rolled when the driver tried to correct course at about 7:30 a.m. New Zealand time, local police said.
"This is a horrible tragedy," Boston University President Robert Brown said in a statement on the website. "Our prayers go out to the students and their families. The university is mobilizing all of our resources to help our students and families deal with this tragedy."
Kevin Taylor, a police official, said it was not clear why the van drifted to the side of the road. He said some of the students were thrown from the vehicle, indicating they may not have been wearing seat belts.
They are believed to have been traveling behind another van of students. None of the eight students in the other van were injured. Seven of those eight students are also from Boston University.
The sixteen students were traveling in two minivans, on their way to hike the Tongariro Crossing, a famous trek rated as one of the most spectacular in New Zealand. The hike crosses a volcanic crater in the central part of North Island.
Student body president Howard Male, a friend of Brashears, said the Boston University students had posted Facebook updates in anticipation of the trip, saying they hoped to view scenery captured on film in the "Lord of the Rings" movies.
"They were all so excited to be able to go explore what many guidebooks ... have called some of the most beautiful places on the planet," Male said.
Jordan Nunez, 22, a senior who is graduating next week, said the study abroad program is very popular among Boston University students. He estimates 25 percent to 30 percent of his friends traveled to foreign countries to study.
Still, the New Zealand accident has darkened the mood on campus, he said.
"You think everything's always taken care for you, but things can happen wherever you are in the world," he said. "It's just something that's sad for our community."
Study abroad program executive director Bernd Widdig called the students' deaths an "unprecedented tragedy," the worst to hit the program since it began in the 1980s. The New Zealand part of the program began in 2003 and involves courses at the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology.
About 250 students, faculty members and well-wishers gathered in Boston on Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil for the victims.
Brashears' girlfriend, junior Tori Pinheiro, cried at the vigil as she recalled how friendly he was and how much she loved him. She said he recently had left her a voicemail saying he missed her and she has been playing it repeatedly.
University President Robert Brown called the students' deaths "a horrible tragedy" and said in an online statement his "prayers go out to the students and their families."
All the students except Theriault were enrolled in a BU study abroad program in Auckland, the BU website said. Theriault was enrolled in a study abroad program in Sydney, Australia.
Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore said it was a terrible end to the year at the school, where commencement is scheduled for May 20.
"This is an unusual time on our campus," Elmore said in a statement on the school website. "We have a lot of people who are traveling and some people who are celebrating the end of final exams. I'd like everyone to please take a moment to pay our respects to the families of those who have been killed."
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