Reunion with friends ends in tragedy

Salem victim in Yale tailgate crash dedicated to family, fashion

Nancy Barry (left), 30, was killed by U-Haul truck that also injured two others.

SALEM - Nancy Barry called her grandmother Friday afternoon, as she did every day.

She and a friend were driving to New Haven for the weekend to visit another friend, Sarah, who had just begun business school at Yale University. They planned to head to the Harvard-Yale game - one of the nation’s most storied football traditions - but mostly, the weekend was a reunion for three old friends.

Barry told her grandmother - for whom she was named - she would be back Sunday to take her shopping for leopard-print fabric. They planned to make pillows to match a new throw.


“I love you, nonni,’’ she said, using her grandmother’s nickname. “I’ll see you when I get back.’’

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Barry, 30, was killed the next morning in a tailgate area by a U-Haul truck that injured two others, including Sarah.

The driver of the truck, Brendan Ross, an undergraduate in his third year at Yale, passed a field sobriety test and has not been charged, New Haven police said.

Sarah Short, Barry’s friend from high school and a student at Yale School of Management, may have broken her leg and was in serious but stable condition, New Haven police said last night.

Short, 30, reached by e-mail, declined to comment last night.


Elizabeth Dernbach, 23, an employee in Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education who was not with the other two women, suffered minor injuries. She could not be reached yesterday and a relative, Joseph Dernbach, said in a brief phone interview that the family had no comment. Asked about Elizabeth’s condition, he said simply, “She’s OK.’’

U-Haul trucks are a tradition at Yale football tailgate parties, where the vehicles, rented by fraternities, sororities, or Yale’s residential colleges, are packed with food, barbecue equipment, tables, and alcohol. The truck driven by Ross carried several kegs of beer.

At about 9:40 a.m., Ross drove the U-Haul, which was funded by his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, onto the school’s intramural fields, used on weekends for tailgate parking. According to New Haven police, the truck turned, accelerated, and struck the three women before it crashed into two other parked U-Haul trucks.

William Dow, an attorney for Ross, said yesterday that the accident “appears to be the result of a vehicle malfunction.’’

David Hartman, spokesman for New Haven police, said Dow’s statement was premature and investigators with the city’s crash reconstruction team have not yet determined what caused the accident.


Ross was home in St. Louis, yesterday with Yale undergraduates on Thanksgiving break this week, Dow said.

Barry’s mother, Paula St. Pierre, went to New Haven as soon as she heard of the death. Officials told St. Pierre her daughter had been alive but unconscious when she arrived at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Barry was pronounced dead at 10:16 a.m., according to police.

St. Pierre said the only visible trauma she could see on her daughter’s body was a bruise and scratches on one side of her forehead. An autopsy would be performed, she said.

It is more important to St. Pierre to get her daughter’s body back in Salem than to know what caused the accident.

“We’re not blaming anybody,’’ said St. Pierre, in an interview at her mother’s house. “We just want to bring her home.’’

Born in Salem, Barry was an ace student with a passion for sports. She was a defender on her schools’ soccer teams from elementary school to graduation, lettered in track, and skied in her free time.

She graduated from Salem High School number six in the class of 1999.

“She used to joke, ‘I could have been number one, but I had to have some fun, mom,’ ’’ St. Pierre recalled.

She hated bullies, her mother said. Once, in high school, she berated a group of kids who were teasing other students. She worried that her teachers would scold her for her less-than-cordial language, but they let it go.

Barry dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. As a child, she outfitted her dolls in clothes she made from tiny fabric patterns.

After graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2003, she worked at Appleseed’s, a women’s apparel store, and at New Balance’s women’s athletic clothing division. A few weeks ago, she started a job at Bennett & Company in Newburyport, where she was hoping to do design work for Victoria’s Secret.

But “she wasn’t no girly-girl,’’ said her uncle, Paul St. Pierre.

She remodeled her bathroom and retiled her kitchen herself. She was most comfortable in chinos and a polo shirt. When she played soccer in elementary school, her mother attached giant bows to Barry’s ponytail. As soon as she was old enough to do her own hair, the bows were gone.

“She was just a good, good girl,’’ Paula St. Pierre said. “She never gave me a bit of trouble.’’

In her 20s, Barry found another passion: Her two nephews, Travis, now 6, and Colby, 4.

Barry visited the boys almost every day. Every Halloween, she sewed them new costumes: Bowser the video game character. Thomas the Tank Engine. Red fireman. Yellow fireman. Silver fireman.

“Of all the people,’’ said Nancy St. Pierre, Barry’s grandmother. “Not that I want for this to have happened to anyone else, but why my beautiful granddaughter?’’

St. Pierre said she was glad to have learned her daughter lost consciousness right after the accident.

“In my heart,’’ she said, “I’m just hoping she didn’t suffer.’’

St. Pierre hoped her daughter’s last recollections were joyous ones. Elated revelers celebrating an age-old tradition. A blue sky stretched out over the Yale Bowl. And her two old friends by her side.

Globe correspondent Miriam Valverde contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at