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Fatal New Zealand van crash cause unknown

BOSTON -- Seeing his injured Boston University classmates lying in a New Zealand roadway after their minivan rolled over, Evan White said he felt helpless.

"Our first impulse was to do whatever we could, but everyone had a sense of helplessness," White, a junior who rode in one of three minivans carrying the students on a hiking trip, told the school's website.

"I helped people away from the van. Others ran to a house to get help."

Saturday's crash killed three students and injured five others, one critically.

Meg Theriault, 21, of Salisbury, Mass., was in intensive care Sunday at Waikato Hospital in New Zealand after surgery the previous day for her injuries.

Theriault suffered a serious head injury, a broken right arm and grazes over her body, her parents said in a statement.

Stephen Houseman, 20, of Massapequa, also was among the wounded. Houseman, a junior at the university's School of Hospitality Administration, was treated Saturday and released from Taupo Hospital, near Auckland, according to BU Today, the university's news website.

The school said 26 students were traveling in the three vans on their way to walk the Tongariro Crossing, a hike across a volcanic crater that is rated as one of New Zealand's most spectacular.

One of the minivans drifted to the side of the road and then rolled when the driver tried to correct course near the North Island vacation town of Taupo, New Zealand police said.

The driver of one of the vans White was in saw the crash in his mirror, pulled over and backed up to the crash site, the school said. The driver of the third didn't see the accident and continued to the initial destination.

New Zealand police official Kevin Taylor said it was unclear why the van drifted to the side of the road. He said some of the students were thrown from the vehicle, indicating they may not have been wearing seat belts.

Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said yesterday that any suggestion as to the cause of the crash at this stage is "just speculation," and that the investigation into the accident "will take some time."

Killed in the accident were Austin Brashears, of Huntington Beach, Calif.; Daniela Lekhno, of Manalapan, N.J.; and Roch Jauberty, of Paris.

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