Local News

Duke student killed in Florida crash; Ala. man charged

Posted March 14
Updated March 15

— An Alabama man faces several charges related to driving under the influence in connection with a wreck late Friday morning that killed a Duke University senior and seriously injured another while they were on spring break in northern Florida.

A university spokesman said Rebecca DeNardis, 21, of Cary, was traveling in a van with four other students and a staff member with Duke's Outdoor Adventures program when it was hit by another vehicle.

The Florida Highway Patrol said Martin Zackery Hales, 25, was headed west around 11:45 a.m. on Interstate 10 in Okaloosa County when he drove his Ford Explorer across the median and crashed into the DeNardis's van.

According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, both vehicles flipped and ended on the side of the road.

DeNardis was taken to North Okaloosa Hospital Center in Crestview, Fla., where she was pronounced dead. Another student, Joao Correia Marques, 21, of Keohane, N.C., suffered serious injuries and was in stable condition Friday afternoon, according to Duke.

A third student was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital.

Hales, jailed under a $176,000 bond, faces one count of DUI manslaughter, one count of DUI serious bodily injury, six counts of DUI injury and one count DUI property damage, authorities said.

The Duke contingent was returning to Durham after a five-day canoeing and camping trip along Florida's Blackwater River.

Students on campus Saturday were stunned by the news of her death.

"She was a person with aspirations and ambitions," Duke freshman Lauren Shum said. "It's hard to realize that she won't be able to realize them now that this has happened."

DeNardis, a member of Duke's Phi Beta Kappa honor society, double-majored in both computer science and mathematics and was on the dean's list throughout her time at Duke.

She was a recipient of the Braxton Craven Scholarship at Duke, a full scholarship that pays for a student's undergraduate tuition.

She planned to work for Google, where she had interned twice, after graduating in May.

DeNardis graduated from Cary High School, where her former math teacher, Andy Zappia remembered her as someone who would go places.

"She came out of Cary High School getting a full ride to Duke," Zappia said. "You can't do much better than that."

Zappia said her death is difficult for him to understand and is a loss to those whose lives DeNardis would have touched.

"How is this possibly fair to anybody who could have benefited from all the gifts that child had?" he said.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Duke is planning a memorial for DeNardis, a university spokesman said.

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