Tragic accident shakes Brandeis community
A Boston/Cambridge shuttle crashed on Saturday night, resulting in one fatality and leaving dozens wounded.
Editor’s note: Justice editors Jen Crystal ’23 and Jane Flautt ’23 contributed to the reporting in this article.
Content warning: The following article concerns recent tragic and traumatic events directly relating to members of the Brandeis community.
A Brandeis Boston/Cambridge shuttle carrying students back to campus crashed on South Street on Saturday, Nov. 19, at approximately 10:30 p.m. Initial reports by the Boston Globe, WBUR, and the New York Times stated that students on the bus were coming back to campus from a Northeastern University Hockey game, but the shuttle is part of the regular transportation services offered by the University.
In a press release on Facebook posted at 9 a.m. on Sunday, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Middlesex district attorney reported the following details regarding the accident: Of the 28 people on the bus — 27 riders in addition to the driver — 27 were transported to varying hospitals in the area, and one student was pronounced dead at the scene. In a Nov. 20 email to the Justice, Assistant Vice President of Communications Julie Jette told the Justice that as of 7:50 p.m. on Sunday, two people remain in the hospital.
The identity of the individual who tragically passed away as a result of the accident was disclosed to the Brandeis community in an email from University President Ron Liebowitz on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 20, following the identification by the Waltham Police Department. Liebowitz wrote that the individual, Vanessa Mark, was an “active and cherished member of the Brandeis community.” Vanessa was an undergraduate student, and though was on leave at the time, was still living in Waltham. Liebowitz emphasized that the University will remain in contact with Vanessa’s family over the coming days and will update the rest of the community regarding “the ways we will honor Vanessa’s memory.”
All classes on Monday and Tuesday have been canceled to allow students to go home early for Thanksgiving break and be with their families as they process Saturday night’s events. Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke clarified in a Nov. 20 email that any assignments and class activities are postponed until after Thanksgiving break.
In the aforementioned email, Liebowitz empathized with the Brandeis community, acknowledging that in addition to the “difficulty of absorbing such painful news,” the reality that many facts remain unclear and many questions remain unanswered causes the situation to be even more distressing.
Liebowitz wrote that the University has been and will continue to work with the Waltham Police department throughout the investigation. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” he stressed, “and we are committed to learning all that we can about how this happened. University leaders will continue to share information as we learn more.”
No charges have been filed as of press time, according to the Middlesex district attorney’s press release, and the cause of the crash is undergoing investigation by the DA’s Office, the Waltham Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police Detectives assigned to the DA’s Office, and the Massachusetts State Police Crash Reconstruction Section.
In another Nov. 20 email, Fierke, along with Stew Uretsky, executive vice president for Finance and Administration, and Andrea Dine, interim vice president for Student Affairs, continued to update students and faculty on the information the school had at the time. They recognized the difficulty of the situation considering that there is “incomplete information,” explaining that “given the number of injured people and the different hospitals to which they were taken, it is taking time to determine the status of everyone involved, including which passengers are Brandeis students.” The administration clarified that they have been in contact with hospitals in the area to “determine the status of other patients, and where possible have provided emergency contact information.” The email noted that even if and when all the identities of those involved in the crash are made clear to the University, “due to privacy concerns, the University will not be releasing a list of those who were injured.”
In light of the tragedy, students gathered with the Student Union and members of Brandeis leadership on Sunday morning in the Shapiro Campus Center. Over 100 students and community members, including faculty and University administrators, attended in person, and over 300 additional people joined via Instagram Live. Liebowitz addressed the community, confessing that dealing with students’ safety is “the single most challenging aspect of my job.” He also told students that “it’s quite natural to react to this sort of thing and in some ways suppress them and not face them, but it is critical for all of you to support one another.” Though classes are canceled for the rest of the week, Liebowitz clarified that there will be many opportunities for any students who plan on staying on campus to get the support they need. He stressed that “you really do have to process this and try to understand this.”
After his speech, Liebowitz was seen walking over to a student who was crying, sitting next to them, and comforting them as the rest of the speeches continued.
Student Union President Peyton Gillespie ’25 also spoke at the event, beginning by asking all students to “take a breath.” He recognized the hard work of Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps, who responded on the scene Saturday night. He also acknowledged the work of Dine, Chief of Public Safety Matt Rushton, and the Brandeis Police for coordinating parts of emergency efforts and releasing information to University administrators, expressing his “sincere appreciation” on behalf of the community. He also thanked the Brandeis Counseling Center, Brandeis Hillel, and the Center for Spiritual Life for offering support and resources, as well as President Liebowitz and all of the faculty members who are working behind the scenes.
Gillespie acknowledged the warmth and cohesiveness of the Brandeis student community, saying, “Thank you for your love for one another.” He told students that the University will continue to send out emails as new information arises and can be shared. He also said that “it is important to keep in mind that there is only so much that we as students can do,” and highlighted the resources available to students, including those offered by the BCC, Brandeis Hillel, and the Center for Spiritual Life.
Dine concluded the gathering, choking up as she described the unity of the Brandeis community: “We come together even in tragedy,” she said. Dine praised the response from students, alumni, faculty, and the broader community for reaching out and asking how they can help in the wake of the accident. Dine clarified that the Office of Student Affairs will be open throughout the week and emphasized that “we are truly here to serve and are with you in this tragic situation.”
The Justice spoke with a member of BEMCo after the speakers concluded, asking about the status of the bus driver since no statements have been released about their condition. BEMCo could not comment on the medical status of any people involved in the accident at that time.
The Justice also spoke with Director of Student Accessibility Support Cara Streit and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Kim Godsoe immediately following the community gathering. Streit encouraged students to reach out to SAS, their academic advisor, or their individual faculty if they have any academic concerns or need support at this time. Neither Streit nor Godsoe were able to confirm any wide-scale plans for academic forgiveness in regard to the upcoming final exam period in the weeks following Thanksgiving Break. Later that day, an email was sent to all students clarifying that all assignments, tests, and class activities are postponed until after the break.
A banner with “#BrandeisStrong” written across the top is currently on display in the SCC, and students were encouraged to write a message in support of those involved. The display is currently filled with post-it notes written by members of the Brandeis community, with numerous expressions of well-wishes, love, and support.
—Editor’s note: Justice Editor Natalie Kahn ’23 is a member of BEMCo. She did not contribute to or edit this article.
This is a developing story. The Justice will continue to update this article online as more details become clear.