HMS Graduate Student Killed in N.H. Car Accident

A promising fifth-year graduate student at Harvard Medical School (HMS) died Saturday night when her car plunged into the Merrimack River in New Hampshire.

In what Bow, N.H. police Chief Rodney Forey called “an extreme tragedy,” Brina and David Shackelford crashed on their first wedding anniversary when David reportedly lost control of the car.

Police and bystanders arrived on the scene minutes after the crash, but were unable to locate Brina, 26, in the murky water.

With the help of bystanders, David, 27, escaped from the car with minor injuries.

Police found Brina 12 minutes after the crash when a wrecker pulled the car out of the river.

The impact sent her into the rear of their two-door coupe even though—according to David—she was wearing a seat belt.

Brina was taken to Concord hospital and put on life support, but was pronounced dead on Sunday morning.

Brina Shackelford was “a very talented student,” her adviser, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute David S. Pellman, wrote in an e-mail.

“She was also a student with a high profile in the class, a doer, an organizer, [a] general contributor to the program.”

Shackelford was studying the mechanics of mitosis in the Center for Biochemical and Biophysical Sciences and Medicine at HMS, and had published a paper suggesting a new model for how the microtubular-motor protein works for the Journal of Current Biology last February.

“She recently had a technical breakthrough and had some preliminary experiments that suggest that she might have been able to demonstrate that model,” Pellman wrote. “Her loss will be felt very acutely. She was a focal point of our group.”

The couple was heading home to Boston from Vermont.

The vehicle was heading southbound on Interstate 89 in the town of Bow when, as David told police, the cruise control got stuck and the vehicle went out of control. The car hit a corner and was airborne for 58 feet until it hit railroad tracks, flipped end over end, and then travelled another 100 feet before it landed in the river, according to Forey.

The car was submerged under six feet of water.

Forey said that there is absolutely no suspicion of foul play, but the Merrimack attorney’s office is investigating the possibility of criminal charges as routine procedure following an automobile fatality.

According to Forey, the town of Bow has been devastated by the tragedy and the police officers who were involved in the rescue are receiving clinical counseling.

“When you have a 27 year-old woman who is working on her doctorate and studying cancer, you can’t help but feel for both families,” Forey said. “She was truly a wonderful person.”