3 GCU students killed after alleged wrong-way driver crashes into car on I-17

GCU counseling services is available for students to go to during tragic events.
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 5:29 AM MST|Updated: Oct. 11, 2022 at 1:19 PM MST
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NEW RIVER, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Three Grand Canyon University students have died after police say a wrong-way driver crashed into their car on Interstate 17 near New River on Monday morning.

The crash happened just before 4 a.m. in the northbound lanes of the interstate near Table Mesa Road when a car going the wrong way hit three other vehicles. Two people in one of the cars that was hit died at the scene, while a third died later at a hospital. Monday afternoon, GCU sent a message to students, faculty, and staff, identifying the three women as:

  • Abriauna Hoffman, 18, from Clarkston, WA
  • Magdalyn (Maggie) Ogden, 18, from Clarkston, WA
  • Hunter Balberdi, 19, from Wailuku, HI
Maggie Ogden, Abriauna Hoffman and Hunter Balberdi were killed in a crash involving a wrong-way...
Maggie Ogden, Abriauna Hoffman and Hunter Balberdi were killed in a crash involving a wrong-way driver on I-17.(Video still courtesy of Grand Canyon University)

All three girls were freshmen and suitemates in the Diamondback Residence Hall. The school says Balberdi and Ogden were pre-med students studying biology, while Hoffman was a marketing and advertising major.

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the suspect driving the wrong-way vehicle survived the crash and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. DPS says he’s a 25-year-old man from Tempe, but that he won’t be identified until he’s released from the hospital. Investigators believe impairment was a factor in the collision.

The drivers of the other two cars that were hit weren’t seriously hurt.

Three Grand Canyon University students have died following a crash involving an alleged wrong-way driver on I-17 near New River on Monday morning.

Tom Srail says he briefly met Ogden but tells us she made a significant impact on him. “A very kind soul, loved to laugh and loved to see other people have a good day. She loved going to concerts and traveling,” Srail said. “I found out about it through a friend. He told me actually just about an hour or two ago, and I was pretty devastated from it. It was hard to take, especially with the news like this. It happens quite a lot. It’s never something you want to hear.”

Many students were left shaken by the news. “I feel really sad. That’s the first thing. One of my friends texted me about it and I was just taken back. Really just heart wrenching to think about what their families are probably going through right now. I can’t imagine,” said Matthew Kerin, a junior.

GCU says students who knew the three girls the most need love and support right now. Some students are reaching out to counselors looking for ways to grieve.

“I think it’s definitely hit our community hard,” said Nicholas Rudgar, GCU Counseling Services Manager. “I think that’s understandable students have been struggling. We want to be here for them.” Rudgar says his team has reached out to close friends of the girls to see if there is anything they can do to help. Some students have come right away to talk and try and find a way to cope with the tragedy. “Their mental health and well-being are something we want to take a look at and support. We want to be able to address these events as they happen and normalize that it’s okay to have this experience and provide that support.”

Students also say they’ve been warned about driving off campus. “They tell you not to drive your freshman year just because of how scary it is. And to hear that three freshman lost their lives by driving. It’s sad to think about. It breaks my heart,” said Haven Aumock, a freshman. “It’s really alarming for students, kind of making us not want to go off campus because who knows what’s going to happen. Who knows if it’s the last time you’re going to end up driving somewhere,” added senior Jelissa Hansen.

The northbound lanes were closed for much of Monday morning, but crews were able to reopen the freeway before noon.

Below is the full GCU letter: