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2 NU students critically injured in crash Driver loses control of car, hits two semis

Two Niagara University students headed off campus on a snowy Monday evening, intending to get a quick tan at a local tanning salon and then return to their studies.

Instead, both young women ended up in critical condition after a crash that sent their car careening into two tractor-trailers on the Niagara Thruway.

Niagara University public relations manager Linus Ormsby said the women are sophomores in the university's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

"The whole campus is in shock," Ormsby said. "We have asked for prayers from our students."

A prayer service was held on campus Tuesday evening.

State Police Sgt. Thomas L. Heiser said the accident happened at 6:05 p.m. Monday in the southbound lanes of I-190, just south of Witmer Road.

Courtney M. Stevenson, 19, of Firefox Drive, Getzville, was driving her new 2006 Saturn and Mary O'Connor, 20, of Syracuse was in the front passenger seat. Stevenson lost control on the snow-covered roadway and struck the rear of a tractor-trailer driven by Robert M. Palfrey, 48, of Niagara Falls, Ont., Heiser said.

The car crossed the median, went into the northbound lane and struck a second tractor-trailer, driven by Jake Martin Vannieker, 31, of Ingersoll, Ont.

Vannieker lost control of his truck, crossed both the median and southbound lane and went down an embankment and into a chain-link fence.

Heiser said Vannieker had some neck and back pain, but refused treatment at the scene.

Niagara Active Hose volunteers used hydraulic tools to remove the two students from the wreckage of the Saturn. Stevenson was taken by Mercy Flight to Erie County Medical Center with severe trauma to her legs, arms and head. O'Connor also suffered severe trauma, with internal and head injuries, and was taken by ambulance to ECMC, Heiser said.

Both remained in critical condition Tuesday night.

Kristina Bradshaw, assistant to the dean in the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said she has advised Stevenson, who recently transfered into the tourism program.

"She is one of those people who is so full of life," Bradshaw said. "Her laugh is contagious. Both girls are excellent students. Our college is so small, it's like a family. The students are so stricken. Everyone has been calling and the student body came together to pray for both the girls."

There are 352 students in the College of Hospitality and Tourism program, and 70 in the program's sophomore class. About 4,000 students attend Niagara, which is five miles from the crash site.

O'Connor's roommate, Elena Oxford, was supposed to go tanning with the girls Monday night, but decided to study, Bradshaw said. She said Oxford spent Tuesday in the hospital intensive care unit, where Stevenson is in a drug-induced coma, due to the loss of blood, and O'Connor was in the brain trauma unit.

Bradshaw said Stevenson lives in an apartment in Lewiston.

"I've sent out an e-mail to all students and have asked for the faculty to show some leniency to students regarding class work," Bradshaw said. "Students and family are welcome to contact me at bradshaw@niagara.edu or 286-8279 for updates on the conditions of the girls."

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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