Crash leaves 1 student dead, 1 critically injured
Two seniors in a Jetta were struck from behind by a stolen Range Rover just before 1 a.m. Wednesday, as they drove north on Haverford Road. Doug Keith/The Villanovan
A standing-room-only crowd filled the St. Thomas of Villanova Church last night to honor the memory of senior Dan Giletta and pray for the recovery of Pat DiChiara. patrick mcmahon/The Villanovan
In the wake of a car crash that killed senior Daniel Giletta and critically injured senior Pat DiChiara in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the University held a prayer service in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church and canceled a number of activities and events planned for Wednesday night.
Giletta's car was struck just before 1 a.m. by a stolen SUV that was being driven at a speed estimated to be over 100 mph on Haverford Road, near the intersection with Rugby Road.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the Church last night, less than 24 hours after the incident, for a prayer service in which University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., called to mind the simple image of "two friends traveling down a road."
Roommates Giletta and DiChiara were driving north on Haverford Road in Giletta's Jetta when they were struck from the rear by a Range Rover that had been reported stolen from Radnor Township, according to Haverford Township Chief of Police Carmen Pettine.
There were no witnesses to the crash, according to Pettine.
A Haverford Township police officer on duty near the intersection of Eagle and Haverford Roads in Havertown had spotted a Range Rover that matched the description of the stolen vehicle. The driver of the Range Rover took off at a tremendous speed northbound on Haverford Road, according to Pettine.
The officer followed in the direction of the Range Rover, attempting to confirm that it was the stolen vehicle, but had not yet initiated a pursuit at the time of the crash, due to the speed at which the Range Rover fled.
The officer did not witness the accident, according to Pettine. He came upon the wreckage of the Jetta only after it had been hit and overturned.
Investigators suspect that the over-100 mph strike from the rear caused the Jetta to go airborne, flip over and hit a high stone wall located adjacent to that part of Haverford Road, according to Pettine.
"The car was really mangled up," Pettine said.
Giletta and DiChiara were trapped in the vehicle.
Oakmont volunteer firefighters extricated the students from the vehicle, according to Oakmont Fire Chief Robert McGoldrick. The process took about 1 hour and 40 minutes, according to Pettine. The rest of the scene was not cleared up until about 6 a.m.
Giletta was pronounced dead at the scene, while DiChiara was airlifted to University of Pennsylvania Hospital, where he remained in critical condition at press time.
The Range Rover traveled another 400-500 yards after striking the Jetta, where it was abandoned by its driver on Haverford Road just short of Polo Road, according to Pettine. The driver fled on foot.
"We are doing everything in our power to find and arrest the individual who caused this tragic accident," Pettine said.
Friends and classmates of both students packed the Church at 6 p.m. last night, silent and stunned.
Just before the service, Donohue spoke briefly to a small group of reporters outside. He called DiChiara's condition "serious but stable."
DiChiara, a sociology major from Toms River, N.J., entered as a freshman in Fall 2006.
"What makes him so special to us is that he stands up for what he believes in and, above all, is able to appreciate the unique qualities of other people," said Thomas McLaughlin, Class of '10. "We all believe that Pat will get through this and continue to be the great son,brother and friend that he is."
"The doctors are hopeful that he'll make a full recovery, but he has a long way to go," said Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., vice president for Student Life.
Stack has already spoken with the fathers of both Giletta and DiChiara.
"You're never prepared for this kind of bad news," said Stack, who was notified of the accident by the Department of Public Safety at around 1:30 a.m., after they had heard from police.
Giletta, a senior electrical engineering student from Wyckoff, N.J., was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity.
LXA brothers met in the Quad before last night's service and walked in each other's company to the Church.
"Some brothers studying abroad are flying home immediately," said senior and LXA member Sid Lyons. "One of Giletta's closest friends, Steve, is on the first flight home."
Junior Steve Schubmehl communicated via Skype from Spain, where he has a flight back to the United States first thing in the morning.
"Where do I even begin to put into words the type of friend Dan was?" Schubmehl said. "Dan was the type of friend who would bend over backwards and do anything you ever asked him to. I know for a fact that Dan was a friend who would take a bullet for me. Besides being there for you whenever you needed him, you could rely on him to always put a smile on your face — whether it was blasting Waka Flocka and dancing along or a funny little one-liner that Dan was notorious for. I miss him more than anything. May my brother rest in peace."
One by one, members of Villanova Greek Life canceled events. Alpha Chi Omega postponed its date party which had been scheduled to take place last night, Kappa Delta dismantled its Shamrock setup at the Oreo and students canceled the Info Session that was supposed to be held last night.
"This morning [Wednesday] we contacted chapter presidents to let them know someone had passed away and felt that it was going to significantly impact the community," said Phil O'Neill, director of Fraternity & Sorority Life. "Everyone grieves differently, so whether they wanted to have their events or cancel them was up to them."
Chapters will decide today if other events planned for this weekend, such as Alpha Phi's Fiesta Bowl and Kappa Delta's Greek Games, will be postponed or not.
The Special Olympics Fall Festival STRIDES Fundraiser was also canceled last night.
Senior Emily Perretti spoke at last evening's prayer service.
"Every time I saw Giletta I was greeted with a big goofy smile on his face," Perretti said. "Many people who knew Giletta might have thought that he was quiet and reserved, and he even knew that he gave this impression. In fact, just a few weeks ago he was telling me that it took him a bit to open up to people. But as we all know, when Giletta opened up to you he was one of the kindest, most genuine and funniest people you've ever met."
Daina Amorosano and Mike Martinoli contributed to this report.
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