ANGOLA, Ind. - News that Bowling Green State University had lost two international students in a snowy crash on the Indiana Toll Road yesterday marked a difficult start to the new year.
"It's really terrible because we've just been here for four months," said Mahesh Pillai, vice president of the India Student Association at BGSU. "We all were getting involved and getting close to each other. This was just a big shock for all of us."
Killed in the crash were Apsana Giri, 26, a graduate student in biology from Kathmandu, Nepal, and Sweety Mazumdar, 25, a graduate student in geology from Kolkata, India. The two women, who shared an off-campus apartment, had just completed their first semester at BGSU and had gone to Chicago to ring in the new year with five other international students from BGSU.
Students were returning from Chicago when the van careened off the road. Five others were treated for injuries.
Indiana State Police said the group was on its way back to Bowling Green in a rented minivan about 12:20 a.m. yesterday when their vehicle went into the median strip, overturned at least two times, and landed on its roof. Both of the women were thrown from the van, police said.
Emergency responders found Ms. Giri pinned underneath the van. She was pronounced dead at the scene from blunt-force trauma, said Steuben County, Ind., Coroner Rodney Snyder, a paramedic who responded to the scene.
Ms. Mazumdar was thrown into the westbound lanes of the toll road. State police said her injuries indicated she may have been struck by a passing car, though no vehicle stopped or was located that might have struck her, Trooper Erick Gilliam said.
She was taken to Cameron
Memorial Hospital in Angola, then transferred by ambulance to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, where she died at 5:25 a.m. Mr. Snyder said an air ambulance from Fort Wayne tried to fly to the crash scene but had to turn back because of the snow and strong winds.
"The roads, they had them scraped down, but they were still slippery with the wind coming across the toll road," Mr. Snyder said. "The wind was blowing pretty heavy up there."
Trooper Gilliam said it's not clear what part the weather conditions played a part in the crash, which remains under investigation.
Mohammad Chowdhury, 25, of Dhaka, Bangladesh, was driving the van. He was treated at the hospital in Angola along with his four other passengers: Puran De, 22, of Bakhrabad, India; Nigel Dsouza, 24, of Pune, India; Mridutpal Nag, 25, of Kolkata, India, and Rahul Mukherjee, 24, of Ranchi, India.
Mr. Chowdhury is a senior majoring in physics, while the other students had just completed their first semester of graduate school. University officials said 686 of BGSU's 21,000 students come from other countries, many with the dream of an American education that requires the backing of their families.
"In many cases an entire family sends a student abroad, so it really is a commitment to go 12,000 miles from home without family and friends and embark on a new stage of their life," said William Balzer, the dean who oversees international programs at BGSU.
"It's a major step for these students. They're very hard-working, highly motivated, and the best of the best from their country who come study in the U.S.," Mr. Balzer said.
Because so many of the international students are involved with teaching and research during the semester, he said, it's common for them to travel during winter break to visit family or friends or simply explore a different part of the country.
"I think it's pretty typical that the international student community bonds very closely," he said. "Even though they're coming from 90 or so different countries, they really are having similar-type experiences so they often travel together, socialize together to try to experience what America has to offer."
Mr. Balzer said the university sent a BGSU bus - with a professional driver and Paul Hofmann, director of international programs, on board - to pick up the surviving students in Angola, Ind.
"We put food on the bus, pillows and blankets, just to try to make the trip back as comfortable as we could," he said, adding that while the students live off-campus, they'll be brought to the university to ease the transition.
"We want them to spend time with the counseling center and student support services to help them understand we're here for them."
Julie George, director of Global Connections, a nonprofit organization that assists international students at BGSU, said the students are pretty special to the volunteers who work with them.
"We are deeply saddened by the news that we received this morning," she said.
"We want to be available for our international students in any way we can. We know they're grieving during this time, and we're grieving too."
- JENNIFER FEEHAN