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New Jersey Turnpike crash kills Harvard student, injures 3

The investigation of a motor vehicle accident can be complicated. Bergen County authorities may have to race to collect and preserve evidence at night, during inclement weather or under pressure to reopen a roadway to traffic. Proof of wrongdoing or negligence may be buried in wreckage or destroyed.

Police or independent accident reconstruction teams record crash scenes in photos, videos and talk with witnesses. Mathematics principles and forensics are applied to determine the vehicle and drivers' conditions and actions before and during a collision. An accident investigation contains proof that supports or eliminates criminal or civil charges.

State troopers have not issued a final report about a recent overnight accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. Investigators aren't sure what caused the driver of a minivan filled with Harvard University students to lose control.

The vehicle crossed over several lanes of the toll road and struck a guardrail. A tractor-trailer then hit the minivan. A 20-year-old woman was thrown from the Chrysler Town & Country and died of crash injuries.

Three of the remaining six van occupants were hospitalized, including a male student who suffered serious injuries. The students, along with others in a separate vehicle not involved in the accident, were members of the university's mock trial team returning from a competition.

Preliminary reports did not indicate who was driving the minivan.

The cause of a car accident is the ultimate goal of crash reconstruction specialists. Attorneys often employ collision analysts to uncover evidence of driver negligence. Insurance companies also send investigators to accident scenes, largely to look for ways to minimize an insured driver's liability.

Insurers have a hard time disputing an accident settlement, when a plaintiff's claim is backed by the precise findings of reconstruction experts. A clear determination of fault also becomes invaluable when personal injury or wrongful death claims against other defendants are heard in New Jersey civil courts.

Source: The Harvard Crimson, "Undergraduate Killed in N.J. Traffic Accident Monday Morning" Madeline R. Conway, Feb. 10, 2014

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