Duke student from Cary dies in car crash after spring break in Florida

From staff reportsMarch 16, 2014 

A Duke University student from Cary died in a crash during a spring break trip to Florida.

Rebecca Denardis, 21, was among a group of students traveling home after five days of canoeing and camping on the Blackwater River in Florida when their van was hit by a pickup truck on Friday. Another truck that was carrying students from the same group was not involved in the crash.

Denardis was taken to a hospital in Crestview, Fla., where she was pronounced dead, the university said in a news release.

Joao Correia Marques, 21, was airlifted to a Pensacola hospital, the Northwest Florida Daily News reported. A Duke spokesman confirmed that one student remained in a hospital Saturday afternoon but declined to release the student’s name or condition.

The driver of the truck, Martin Zachery Hale of Jemison, Ala., faces charges including DUI manslaughter and DUI serious bodily injury, the Daily News reported. The Florida Highway Patrol said Hale’s truck crossed the median of Interstate 10 and hit the Duke group’s van at about 11:45 a.m., according to the report.

The driver of the van, Donald McKinnis of Durham, and five passengers were also treated for minor injuries and released, the Daily News said. The report listed the passengers as James Ferguson, 20, of Berwyn, Pa.; Ruiqi Jiang, 20, of Durham; Shannon Kalsow, 22, of Lake Forest, Calif.; Anne Piotrowski, 21, of Pittsburgh; and Liangliang Zhang, 20.

Duke spokesman David Jarmul said the school facilitated the group’s return flight to Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Saturday. The students, who were traveling with the director of Duke’s Outdoor Adventure program and a part-time staffer, spent the night in Florida on Friday after the crash, the news release stated.

Denardis, a senior with a double major in computer science and mathematics, was on a full scholarship to Duke.

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