Montville -- A Connecticut College student was killed when a van she was riding in this morning was struck head-on by a 23-year-old Groton man who was allegedly drunk and driving the wrong way on Interstate 395.
Elizabeth Durante, 20, of West Islip, N.Y., on Long Island, was killed when she was tossed from the van she and seven other students were riding in en route to Logan Airport in Boston to embark on a humanitarian mission to bring medical supplies to a small village in Uganda, according to a college spokeswoman and state police.
Daniel Musser has been charged by state police in Montville with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, reckless endangerment, second-degree assault under the influence, driving the wrong way on the highway, and driving without insurance.
Musser is being held on a $100,000 bond at the Troop E barracks and is scheduled to appear in Norwich Superior Court on Monday.
Although the college is at the beginning of its two-week spring break, word of Durante’s death and the accident spread quickly throughout the campus and in Durante’s hometown.
“Elizabeth was a student of enormous talent, commitment and compassion,” college President Leo I. Higdon Jr. said in a news release. “Her passing is an incalculable loss to our community. Our deepest sympathies are with Elizabeth's family and with her many friends on campus.”
“This is a very passionate, committed group of students who have all done a lot of community service. It is a tragic loss for our community,” MacDonnell said this morning.
“Her whole life was based on a medical career,” West Islip Fire Chief Joseph Badala said this morning. “When she was home she would ride with us regularly. She was very dedicated and active to us and always willing to help and learn. She’s going to be a big loss.”
Durante, a pre-med student and certified EMT, had hoped to become a surgeon and eventually travel with Doctors Without Borders, according to a profile of Durante on the Conn College Web site.
“I love the connection with other human beings that medicine offers. No matter where they grew up, how old they are, how rich or poor, a patient is a patient. They are human beings with human feelings and, more importantly, human needs,” she wrote.
Durante, a junior, and her peers had been planning the trip, which Durante and a friend organized through the Asayo’s Wish Network. She had received basic medical training to do first aid.
Durante and fellow junior Stefanie Hinman, who was not in the van, had organized the trip for 15 Conn. College students to accompany Dr. Bill Fridinger with the Asayo’s Wish Network to Kaberamaido, Uganda.
Immediately after the accident, the students were taken to local hospitals for treatment. Two students were taken to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, while five were taken to The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. All were treated and released except for one that has been kept at Backus; the severity of the student’s injuries is not known.
Higdon, two deans and two chaplains visited the students at the hospitals this morning, MacDonnell said.
Other students involved in the accident were Jennifer Blanco, 21, of Groton; Charles Gartman, 20, of New York City; Rie Tai, 20, of New London; Laura Whitelaw, 19, of California; Jessica Gordon, 20, of Barrington, R.I.; Samantha Herndon, 21, of Georgia; and John Meade, 19, of Bronx, N.Y. The livery van was driven by Faheem Muhammad, 38, of Groton.