Two weeks ago, Valantein V. Burson got a tattoo inside her right wrist: her astrological sign, Aquarius, and the name, Jason, a reference to her 40-year-old half-brother who died in September after an illness.
“She said every time she looks at that, she’s keeping him alive,” Burson’s mother, Vivienie Thorpe, said Tuesday.
Now, the 31-year-old Burson is also dead, killed early Monday when State Police say her 2011 Infiniti G37 struck another vehicle carrying four college students. Authorities said she drove the wrong way on Interstate 495 in Middleborough.
The students, who were headed back to their colleges in Central Massachusetts, were also killed. Kraig A. Diggs, 20, and Jordan J. Galvin-Jutras, 19, grew up on Cape Cod and were students at Anna Maria College in Paxton. Jordan J. Fisher, 19, of Harwich, and Cory P. Licata, 18, of West Babylon, N.Y., were students at Becker College in Worcester.
Investigators are trying to determine how Burson ended up traveling in the wrong direction and plan to conduct toxicology tests to determine whether drugs or alcohol played a role, said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.
They also plan to look for a device that records information about crashes, though Procopio said such technology, if installed on the Infiniti, may have been destroyed in the collision with the 2003 Mercury Sable driven by Diggs.
Records from the state Registry of Motor Vehicles show Burson was ticketed for speeding five times between 2004 and 2015, but did not have a crash in her driving history. Police cited her for speeding in Westport, Canton, Sturbridge, Stoughton, and Warren, records show.
Burson’s boyfriend, Matthew Gray, said Burson had planned to attend a party Sunday, but he and three relatives said they don’t know where she was headed when the crash happened at 12:11 a.m. Monday.
On Sunday night, Burson spoke with her mother, who lives in Florida. “I said, ‘I’m watching the Patriots game.’ She said, ‘Nice,’ ” Thorpe said. “That’s the last thing I said to her.”
In the last year, Burson, who lived in Fall River, had landed her dream job working with prisoners at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater and planned to go back to school to pursue a doctorate degree in clinical psychology, Thorpe said.
The treatment center houses sex offenders and inmates who have been civilly committed after being declared sexually dangerous persons.
Thorpe said her daughter initially studied nursing and played soccer at American International College in Springfield, but changed course during her third year and pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology.
“She went to college and grad school to dedicate her life to making a difference,” Thorpe said. “She wanted to shed a light on mental illness.”
Her father, Jewell Burson, said his daughter was a standout soccer player at Stoughton High School who later worked as a counselor for troubled teens.
“She was very quiet and very intelligent,” said Burson, who lives in Richmond, Va. “She was a very gentle person. She [didn’t] speak ill of other people.”
On the college campuses where Diggs, Galvin-Jutras, Fisher, and Licata studied, school officials said grief counselors were available. The students were headed back to their colleges from the Middleborough home of Diggs’s mother when they were killed, a relative has said.
Fisher had just begun studying business administration at Becker this fall, the school said. His father said Tuesday he was “basically the most wonderful son I ever could imagine.”
“I loved him to death, more than life itself,” said Rodney Fisher, 52, of Harwich. “He was taken away tragically.”
Diggs and Galvin-Jutras were cousins and students at Anna Maria. Diggs was studying business, while Galvin-Jutras was enrolled in a fire science program.
“All great kids, just trying to grow up to be men doing all the right things,” Fisher said. “All good boys. All good boys.”
Licata had just moved to Massachusetts to begin his first year at Becker, where he was studying interactive media, the school said in a statement. He was a 2016 graduate of St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, N.Y., according to Nan Doherty, the principal.
She said school officials Tuesday gathered Licata’s varsity track and field teammates in the chapel to inform them of his death and pray for his family.
“His coach and friends remember him as being a positive contributing team member and friend who was always determined to contribute to his team’s success,” Doherty said.
Both colleges said they plan to organize memorial services for the students. A prayer service was held Monday night at Anna Maria, said Andrew Klein, the school’s vice president for student affairs.
“It was somber, of course, and people were very upset. At a time like that, we just turn to each other and turn to our faith,” Klein said. “It was reassuring that we were there to support each other, but terribly sad the reason why we came together.”John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Cristela Guerra can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.