On the morning of March 30, members of the Trinity community received an email from Sharon Schweitzer, assistant vice president for external relations, informing them of a tragic car crash in the 1000 block of East Olmos Drive, involving five first-year students, one of whom, Corey Byrnes, was killed. While the news reached campus by 9:32 a.m., family, friends and certain community members had been dealing with the crisis for hours.
The crash occurred at 12:47 a.m., with Byrnes pronounced dead at the scene by Olmos Park police responders. The other students, Claire Alford, Andrew Harrington, Sarah Billman and Hannah Ventola were taken to University Hospital. A preliminary report from Olmos Park Police Department indicated the car veered off the road after the driver lost control at high speeds, crashing into a concrete bridge pillar. Byrnes was riding in the back seat of the white Acura TSX when the accident occurred.
Soon after, junior Max Salazar, resident mentor of Calvert Residence Hall,””where all five first years lived””received a phone call from Ventola at around 1 a.m.
“I could barely make sense of what she was saying. There was a lot of cussing. It sounded very hectic, and she just started screaming that she was in a car accident, that there was a news crew there, that there were cops, an ambulance, firefighters, the whole thing. She just started bursting out names of the people she was involved with,” Salazar said. “She had no idea if they were dead, but she said it was really bad.”
Salazar remained awake throughout the night as the situation developed, contacting Rachel Boaz, Residential Life coordinator of Calvert, Miller and Witt-Winn Residence Halls, with the news. At about 6:30 a.m., Wanda Olson, director of Residential Life, contacted Reverend Stephen Nickle.
“I got a call from Wanda Olson, and anytime Wanda calls early in the morning it’s hard news,” Nickle said. “[Since then] it’s mostly been about communicating, getting word to roommates, suitemates, the RM group, and just being responsive to people’s sadness.”
Later that morning, Olson also called upon Salazar to help within Calvert Residence Hall.
“Wanda [Olson] knocked on my door and she asked if I could meet personally with the roomates and the suitemates that were affected directly,” Salazar said. “That’s when I heard the news that Corey had passed away. I couldn’t believe it.”
Following the accident the students were transported to University Hospital. As of April 8, Alford has regained consciousness and Harrington has started to wake up, though he remains sedated, according to his father.
“I’ve done training twice already. This is my second year on staff, and there really is no particular training for a situation like this. We get training for natural disasters, stuff like that, but a death”¦It is definitely mentioned, we do talk about it,” Salazar said. “The best thing I can do right now is to make sure my residents know that I am always available to discuss, digest with them what’s happening, use some of the counseling skills I have.”
The news of the accident has had far-reaching effects on campus, with the community shaken by the tragedy.
“The loss of a student””any young life””is just too much to bear. I think everyone’s thoughts and prayers go first and foremost to Corey Byrnes and his family and his sister at Trinity. We are all pulling for the physical and emotional health and recovery of the other students who were so dramatically affected,” said David Tuttle, dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs. “We turn our attention to the family, friends and loved ones of all of these young people. The ripples just keep expanding.”
Nickle expressed similar sentiments, addressing the unique nature of facing death within a college setting.
“[These types of deaths] pop out because this is a community of eternal youth, it’s always about youthfulness and death even though death is much more of a thing than we realize,” Nickle said. “People have family pets die, grandparents die, parents die, people die themselves, but we tend to just not even be aware of that.”
However, this awareness is distinctly present in the coming months for Byrnes’s family, especially his sister, senior Natalie Byrnes.
“The harder part for me is thinking ahead, thinking about Natalie’s graduation, spring semester of senior year, and to have your little brother get killed in a car crash is the antithesis of the release of spring semester your senior year,” Nickle said. “Her family will be down here celebrating her graduation in two months and there will be something bittersweet to that.”
At 5 p.m. on March 30, Nickle and Gary Neal of Counseling Services hosted an open gathering in the Parker Chapel Reception Room to foster reflection and discussion among those affected. Similarly, Tuttle encourages attitudes of solidarity and support during this time.
“We would all prefer that our community come together over a sporting contest, a lecture, a new building. This is the worst way to be reminded of the strength of our community,” Tuttle said. “But it’s all we have. So we need to look after each other.”