Tragic accident in Los Angeles last Nov. leaves university in shock


Kyle Fenton, Staff Reporter

Friday, Jan. 30, marked the 49th day since the passing of two Central University English as a Second Language (UESL) students.

The importance of the 49th day since death, in some Japanese cultures, marks the estimated time it takes for the spirit to be reborn into a new life. It is also the number of days that the families and friends pray for the deceased.

Sherri Fujita, director of the UESL program at Central, was asked by the students to have a memorial on campus.

“When we were doing grief counseling with the students, one of the things the students mentioned is they thought it would be good to have something after 49 days,” Fujita said.

The memorial was held in Kamola Hall and had a turnout of approximately 40 people.

“In Buddhist countries, people usually have some type of ceremony marking that event,” Fujita said.

The purpose of the event was to get the close friends of the deceased and those involved in the accident to come share their stories.

“Some people brought pictures. We had a book that people could write their memories or messages,” Fujita said. “We had a really nice event.”

The tragic loss of the two UESL students resulted from a single car crash on a stretch of highway in northern California. Four UESL students were riding in the car: two in the front and two in the back.

The students were on holiday taking a road trip during Thanksgiving break when the accident happened.

The car reportedly crossed the center lane and flipped over. The two girls who died may not have been wearing seat belts in the back seat.

In Japan, it is not required for back seat passengers to wear seat belts.

According to a press release on Central’s website, the students who died in the accident were Yoshiko Hirooka from Osaka, Japan, and Saya Sonoda from Fukuoka, the capital city of Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

In the same press release, President James L. Gaudino said the terrible event sent shockwaves through the Central community.

“We’re simply heartbroken. We cannot believe that these beautiful friends, daughters and students are gone,” Gaudino said.

Fujita and Richard DeShields, associate dean of students, flew to Palm Springs to be with the students after the accident.

“Our staff and faculty have been in close contact with the students and their families, and we want to extend our heartfelt condolences to them and to friends and family in Japan who mourn this painful loss,” Gaudino said.

DeShields said they had a wonderful response from working with the trauma center in Palm Springs and from the support of the families of those involved in the accident.

“The university purchased a plaque in the students honor, and it’s at the hospital that the students were,” DeShields said.

Injured in the accident were Aimi Hayashi and Maki Tagawa, both from Fukuoka.

One of the students is still enrolled at Central.

The other student finished up fall quarter and returned home after the quarter ended.

“We’ve had a lot of meetings on how the crisis was handled,” Fujita said.

Fujita and DeShields both said that there will not be any immediate policy changes within the UESL program.

The students were adults on their own vacation, it is not Central’s policy to police its students on what they can and can’t do on their breaks.

“The best we can do is inform students on things like how important it is to wear a seat belt,” Fujita said.

As of now, there is no monument planned, but with the right funds Fujita and DeShields said it would be a “very nice” gesture.