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Student dies in bike accident

Megan Doyle | Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When Paige O’Laughlin told sophomore Ziqi Zhang she would transfer to another school from Saint Mary’s after their freshman year together, she said her friend was initially devastated.

“A few hours later, she calmed down and told me she absolutely hated my choice, but she supported my decision and said our friendship didn’t have to end because we longer attend the same school,” O’Laughlin said. “Since then it has only flourished. … I attribute my greatest college memories I have made so far to her.”

Zhang, 19, died Thursday evening from injuries sustained in an accident between her bike and an SUV outside the entrance to Saint Mary’s on State Route 933.

A resident of Regina Hall, Zhang was a dual-degree student majoring in mathematics at Saint Mary’s and taking engineering classes at Notre Dame. She was a resident of Jiangsu Province in China.

The accident occurred just before 9 p.m. Thursday, according to a release from the St. Joseph County Police Department. The driver, identified in the report at 34-year-old Erin Zick of Edwardsburg, Mich., told police she had a green light at the time of the accident. The report stated witnesses confirmed Zick’s account and that there is no evidence drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash.

For O’Laughlin, Zhang’s friendship will stay with her as she mourns her friend’s death. Her memories with Ziqi on weekend trips to Chicago or hanging out together are some of her best college memories so far, she said.

“When she wanted something, she went for it,” O’Laughlin said. “She always tried to turn anything unpleasant into a positive and something funny experience if applicable. She liked to look on the bright side of situations and focus on changing the future instead of dwelling on the past.

“I found her attitude and outlook on life completely inspiring, having her as a friend changed me and made me a much better person.”

Sophomores L.E. Evans and Jessica Filipski both lived with Zhang in a Regina Hall quad as freshmen. Zhang moved into an empty spot in the quad in the middle of the fall semester. Filipski said the death of her former roommate didn’t seem real when she first heard the news.

“I was just really shocked,” Filipski said. “I still am kind of shocked that she’s gone. It’s hard to believe that.

“I feel like today, going to classes, it’s more real. Even though she isn’t in any of my classes, she could be going back to class. It’s hard to think about how she will be missing and how her seat will be empty.”

Evans remembered Zhang as someone with “genuine spirit.”

“She just brought so much life to the room,” Evans said. “She was a genius, so grateful for the opportunity to be at Saint Mary’s and also doing the dual program at Notre Dame. … There’s not enough words to describe what kind of person she was.”

The girls remembered joking with Zhang about American customs and slang. Evans said Zhang applied to a number of American colleges while in high school in China, and she planned to stay in the United States for a few years after graduation before returning home to be closer to her family.

“What I always found remarkable was that it’s usually a fifth year if you’re doing the dual degree program,” Evans said. “[But Zhang] overloaded on classes. She was a very diligent worker. She wanted to graduate in four years, and she was very dedicated to doing that.”

Evans remembered Zhang as a night owl who loved the sitcom Modern Family and Lay’s potato chips, someone who was always joking and smiling.

“We would always sit and talk about the American way of doing this or that, she would always say funny things,” Evans said.

The girls said they would often joke about American customs with Zhang, who tried to teach Filipski different words in Chinese as well.

“I was so bad,” Filipski said. “We would laugh with each other about it.

“Her personality shined out. She was so outgoing. She liked to live life to the fullest.”

Zhang had not visited her home in China since she moved to the United States as a freshman, Evans said. She planned to return home for winter break this year.

“If there’s anything I want people to know it’s just that she is a huge loss,” Evans said. “She was just that person that you could talk to about anything, and she would make you feel better.”

College President Carol Ann Mooney expressed her sorrow for Zhang’s death in a statement released Friday.

“On behalf of the entire Saint Mary’s College community, I want to express our shock and deep sorrow at the passing of Ziqi,” Mooney said. “We offer heartfelt condolences to her parents and sister and our prayers are with them.

“Death is never easy, especially when it is a young person with so much promise.”

University President Fr. John Jenkins also released a statement Friday afternoon to join in mourning a Zhang as a student at both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Ziqi Zhang and to the entire Saint Mary’s community,” he said. “Ziqi also was well-known here at Notre Dame, where she was enrolled in the College of Engineering and involved in various clubs and activities. On behalf of the University, our prayers are with all who knew and loved her.”

A memorial service for Zhang will be held today at 12:30 p.m. in Regina Chapel. Grief counseling is available to students through Saint Mary’s Women’s Health Center, Campus Ministry and Residence Life and Community Standards.

Anyone wishing to contribute to a fund to help Zhang’s family with funeral and travel expenses may send donations to Karen Johnson, vice president of Student Affairs, in 175 Le Mans Hall. Checks should be payable to Saint Mary’s College and indicate in the memo line that the donation is for the Ziqi Zhang family.

Johnson told students in an email Monday that the family will receive a list of all donors. Students can also send notes to Zhang’s family by sending them to the same address. The notes will be translated and delivered to her family when they arrive in the United States.

Contact Megan Doyle at mdoyle11@nd.edu