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Two first-year students dead, sophomore hospitalized after car crash

| Saturday, October 24, 2020

This report was updated Oct. 26 at 3:20 p.m.

Two Notre Dame first-year students were killed and one sophomore was hospitalized after being hit by a car early Saturday morning on Ironwood Road, vice president of student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding said in an email.

In a follow-up email, Hoffmann Harding said the two first-years who died were Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas. Espinel was an intended economics major from Guayaquil, Ecuador, who lived in Badin Hall. Rojas was from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia and lived in Cavanaugh Hall, planning to study in the Mendoza College of Business, according to the email.

The third victim, sophomore Eduardo Jose Elias Calderon, was sent to Memorial Hospital in critical condition. University President Fr. John Jenkins was at the location of the accident.

The crash involving the University students occurred around 4 a.m. A Toyota Sienna minivan struck the three students, and continued down the road after hitting the pedestrians before crashing into a house in South Bend in the 54000 block of Ironwood. There are no sidewalks in the area.

Mariah Rush | The Observer

The stretch of Ironwood Rd. where the accident occurred.

The driver was identified as Justin Cavallo, 25, of South Bend, Ind., according to a press release by the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office. Cavallo sustained minor injuries, remained on the scene and cooperated with the police. The passenger in Cavallos care was identified as Rafik Tannir, 24, of South Bend, Ind. Tannir was uninjured in the crash.

Following the initial crash, a second vehicle driven by Darlene Holden, 54, of South Bend, Ind., struck Espinel lying in the roadway. Holden was uninjured and remained at the scene.

Hoffmann Harding said the University would host a prayer service at 8 p.m. Saturday in front of Bond Hall, followed by a procession to the Grotto. The service was also streamed online.

“Please wear a mask and practice physical distancing as we pray for Valeria, Olivia, their families and all who loved them,” she said in the email.

Claire Rafford | The Observer

The tri-campus community gathers to honor the life of Notre Dame students Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas.

Saint Mary’s President Katie Conboy sent an email the College community offering support to the University.

“Our hearts and prayers go out today to the entire Notre Dame community as we learn of the tragic accident that resulted in death and injury early this morning,” she said. “Saint Mary’s College students, faculty and staff are here to support our Notre Dame family and each other as we grieve together. Our Health and Counseling, Campus Ministry and Residence Life staff are here for Saint Mary’s students. We stand ready to offer any of our resources to members of the tri-campus community as we join together in sorrow and solidarity.”

University President Fr. John Jenkins expressed his condolences in a Saturday press release.

“On behalf of the entire Notre Dame community, I express our deepest condolences and pray that our students’ families and friends may find God’s grace and solace after so shattering a loss,” Jenkins said. “We also pray for a full recovery of our student who remains hospitalized as a result of the accident.”

According to the press release, the St. Joseph County Fatal Crash Team (FACT) is handling the investigation. Toxicology results are pending.

A mass of remembrance for Espinel and Rojas will be held Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Notre Dame Stadium, Jenkins said in a Monday email. Entry into the stadium will begin at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 7:45 p.m. The mass will be streamed online for those who wish to attend virtually.

“Masks and physical distancing are required at all times,“ Jenkins said. “Temperatures are expected to be in the low 40’s, so please dress accordingly.“

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