Friends remember Brandeis student Vanessa Mark killed in bus crash

The Boston Globe

“She’s one of the few people I think is really good,” Sam Forman said.

Flowers at the scene of a Brandeis University shuttle crash on South Street in Waltham. ADAM FLEISHAKER

To Sam Forman, there are few people who represent “pure goodness”, who can fill a friend’s day with light and positivity, even in the midst of their own struggles.

Vanessa Mark, a student at Brandeis University who was killed in a shuttle accident on Saturday, was one of them, he recalled Monday.

“She was sunshine, light and warmth, and just kindness,” said Forman, 23, a college friend of Mark’s. “She’s one of the few people I think is really just good.”

Forman was at work when he received a call from a friend saying Mark, 25, had died after a shuttle on a round trip hit a tree in Waltham.

“It was such a shocking experience to hear his name,” Forman said.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Waltham Police Chief Kevin O’Connell said Monday night there were 30 passengers on the bus, which was driven by a driver working for Joseph’s Transportation. All aboard were injured in the crash, which is still under investigation, and at least one survivor has life-threatening injuries, Ryan and O’Connell said in a statement.

The shuttle was on a routine route between Boston and Cambridge and Brandeis at the time of the accident, and not all of the students had attended a hockey game at Northeastern University, as previously reported, according to the statement. The majority of the pupils came from Brandeis, but there were also pupils from other schools.

In the midst of the frenetic start to freshman year, Forman and Mark crossed paths while auditioning for an improv band on campus. Within minutes of meeting her, Forman could tell Mark was “funny and friendly.”

“It was just kind of an indication of her character, how magnetic and brilliant she was in every way,” Forman said.

With his rectangular glasses, beaming smile and natural disposition for comedy, Mark will join False Advertising, Brandeis’ oldest improv troupe. Forman did not make the cut and instead joined an a capella group on campus.

But this meeting led to a lasting friendship. Whenever he felt down or needed a laugh, Mark was the first person he went to.

“You couldn’t really spend many moments with her without smiling and laughing,” Forman said.

Rachel Freed Sussman, 23, bonded with Mark before classes even started. Their parents dropped them off for pre-orientation at the same time and the two students shared a knowing smile.

“And that was it. We were just friends ever since. We just kinda looked at each other and knew,” said Freed Sussman, who lives in Boston. The two were to become roommates.

While Mark was light and bubbly, she was also determined to succeed, she said.

“She was just this incredibly patient, incredibly persistent person who always wanted to do the right thing,” Freed Sussman said. “She never gave up”

Mark was on leave from Brandeis but lived in Waltham and “was an active and cherished member of the Brandeis community,” Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz said in a statement to students on Sunday.

“I know the sadness of last night’s fatal shuttle accident reverberates in our community today,” Liebowitz said. “We are all going through the shock of such a terrible accident, and everyone’s recovery will take time.”

The Brandeis Center for Spiritual Life has scheduled a vigil for 7 p.m. Monday at Harlan Chapel, to provide an “open space for reflection in light of the tragic accident,” according to an Instagram post.

Adam Fleishaker, 23, a close friend of Mark’s at university, said “we are all devastated” by his death.

Fleishaker was in the same a capella group as Forman, and recalled his friendship with Mark blossoming in rehearsal rooms, where the two drummed their fingers on the piano and practiced their parts together.

Mark had such a strong gravitational pull that others would come into her orbit just entering the room, he said. She would immediately make them feel special and welcome.

“I want to show everyone the joy and the love she gave, so that I can, even as a ribbon, give back to who she was,” Fleishaker said.

Mark’s empathy has manifested in other ways, such as his artwork. From drawing pictures of his staged friends in different poses to making miniature figurines for them, his artistic ability was striking, Fleishaker said.

And on stage, Mark was a star, friends said. She was soft-spoken, but when it was her time to shine, Fleishaker said, she captivated the audience and her fellow cast members relied on her performance to keep the show going.

“His personality would just provide such fodder,” he said. “It was great.”

Since the accident, Fleishaker has recalled the times he shared with Mark and has been struck by the enormity of his loss. More than anything, he was amazed to hear about the number of lives she touched.

“What [people] should see is the art and life that flowed from her, and the joy she brought to everyone,” he said. “That’s what I mean when you google ‘Vanessa Mark’.”

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