Students and faculty at the University of Cincinnati return to campus in a state of grief after a car crash claimed one student’s life and a house fire has two others fighting for their lives.
Tragedy first struck Dec. 26, 2012, when Jessica Galley, a first-year student and member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority chapter at UC, died in a car collision. Galley lost control of her vehicle and struck a snowplow on northbound I-71, south of the Fields Ertel Road exit. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Six days later on New Year’s Day a house fire in the 2800 block of Digby Avenue left Ellen Garner, a 20-year-old student and member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, and Chad Kohls, a 21-year-old student, in critical condition.
Firefighters rescued Garner and Kohls from the third story of the house, and sent them to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for excessive smoke inhalation. Both are still in critical condition.
The tragic events during winter break brought students — especially members of Greek life — and faculty together.
“The strength of a community is manifest at its darkest moments,” said UC President Santa Ono. “The UC community is clearly a caring community; one that comes together in good times and bad.”
Members of the UC community took to social media following Galley’s death and the Digby house fire to express condolences, love and encouragement for the victims and their families.
“We are so lucky that Jessica Galley graced us as a member of the [University] of Cincinnati community,” Ono said in a tweet. “She touched so many lives. Rest in peace.”
A Facebook page, “Prayforchad”, was created to provide updates on his condition. The most recent update posted on Jan. 5 said Kohls remains in critical condition, but is making slight improvements.
“He is moving his shoulders and head as well as opening his eyes occasionally,” according to the Facebook post. As of press time, 1,919 people liked the page while more than 200 comments offered support and prayers for Kohls and Garner.
The families have asked for privacy, but that has not stopped friends from visiting the hospital to show their support.
“The gatherings that have shown up at the hospital have been so large that everyone has to meet in the main lobby in the hospital instead of going up to the waiting rooms,” said John Foyles, a fourth-year finance student and friend of Garner.
“There is a lot of talk of the smiles she brought to everyone’s faces and how she always had a huge smile on her face no matter what the situation.”
The Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter hosted a vigil Jan. 3 at the sorority house to pray for the students and their families. The event was closed to the press but a multitude of students could be seen entering the house.
“As trying as these days have been, I have been touched by the enormous outpouring of support at Jess' funeral and at tonight's vigil for Chad and Ellen,” Ono said. “My heart goes out to the countless friends and family of these students as well as others who have been affected by these events.”
A memorial for Galley is scheduled for Jan. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Zimmer Auditorium. The event is open to the public. The university is encouraging anyone seeking counseling to visit the counseling center located in 1216 Crosley Tower.