Teen crushed to death at wild party


THE student who died during an out-of-control university house party in New Zealand's South Island has been identified as Sophia Crestani, 19.

Witnesses say Sophia, who grew up in Wellington and has an identical twin sister, may have been trampled after she and others fell down the stairs at the house at the University of Otago.

Sophia was finishing her second year of study at the Dunedin university, with final lectures for the year wrapping up this week.

The residence at which she died was a renowned party house on Dundas St referred to as "the Manor", which had just been sold after being student accommodation for years.

It is understood about 500 to 600 students attended the party on Saturday night in which dozens became involved in a crush after a crowd was pushed and collapsed on top of each other down the staircase.

Sophia had attended Wellington Presbyterian girls school Queen Margaret College before moving to Dunedin to attend university.

The young woman had an interest in fashion while at Queen Margaret, and a dress she designed was displayed at the National War Memorial in 2017 for the World of WearableArt event.


Sophia Crestani, 19, died at the party. Picture: Otago Daily Times
Sophia Crestani, 19, died at the party. Picture: Otago Daily Times


While back home in Wellington, outside of university classes in Dunedin, Sophia worked casually as a recreation assistant at the ASB Sports Centre.

Queen Margaret College principal Jayne-Ann Young would not name the student but acknowledged she was a former pupil and offered her condolences and prayers to her family and friends.

"We naturally are deeply saddened to hear this terrible news about a former student," Ms Young said.

"Our head of senior school and a chaplain from the college are heading to Dunedin to support previous students, and the school is open for any past or present students if they wish to meet here."

Sophia also had a profile on the ICAN models, actors and extras agency.

Police are still trying to piece together exactly what happened at the party. Meanwhile, the University of Otago says it will consider wider concerns when it comes to student behaviour in the city following the death.

The university's comments came in response to questions about whether the university thought it was time to think about ways to control the size and scale of parties; whether the party should have been shut down much earlier; and whether Dunedin's tertiary institutions should take more responsibility for the high number of students going through the hospital emergency department and clogging up Fire and Emergency NZ and police resources.


Sophie died and two others were seriously injured at a rowdy party at a student flat known as 'The Manor'. Picture: Otago Daily Times
Sophie died and two others were seriously injured at a rowdy party at a student flat known as 'The Manor'. Picture: Otago Daily Times


University director of communications Megan McPherson said the university's priority was to support students affected by the "tragic" event.

"As you can imagine, many people are grieving today and we are supporting the student's family and friends," she said.

"There is a police investigation underway and we are co-operating fully."

She said the questions raised by the Otago Daily Times may be addressed by the investigation.

"When the investigation is complete, we will consider wider concerns that may be raised by this event," Ms McPherson said.

Otago Coastal Area commander Inspector Marty Gray told media at a press conference yesterday Campus Watch contacted police five minutes before midnight on Saturday to report disorderly behaviour.

That call was followed by one from partygoers asking for help to halt the event.

When police arrived, the young woman, a student at the university, was carried out of the house by people at the address.

Police and others tried to revive her before paramedics arrived.

"When our officers arrived there was … about 500 or 600 partygoers, a lot of them anxious, a lot of them trying to get out of the premises, a lot of them trying to get in the premises, a lot of disorganisation, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of anxiety," he said.

"The victim was carried out of the house by other people and resuscitation attempts were made at that time."

Two other people at the party were injured. Partygoers' efforts to help the woman were "fantastic" and police did not meet any resistance at the scene, Insp Gray said.

He told media it was too early to call the death an accident and also too early to speculate whether charges would be laid.

A student who attended the party told the Herald people fell down the flat's stairs and landed on top of the woman, who suffered fatal injuries.

"She may have been trampled," the student said. "I went outside and saw her lying on the ground being given CPR."


Empty shoes were left strewn on the street outside the address. Picture: Otago Daily Times
Empty shoes were left strewn on the street outside the address. Picture: Otago Daily Times

Another partygoer told the Otago Daily Times the house was "seriously crowded", and there were people "slipping and falling" on the stairwell.

"She fell, and that's when the panic happened," they said.

"The tears started flooding from everyone else."

There were initial reports the stairwell of the house had collapsed, but Insp Gray told media the house did not appear to have any structural issues.

Insp Gray was unable to release any details of the young woman's identity but said her family lived outside Dunedin and had been informed of her death.

The police's priority was providing support to her friends and family, the occupants of the flat and the wider community. Police were also asking anyone at the party - or anyone with information about the incident who had not yet spoken to them - to come forward.

"It's not a time to sort of point fingers or to indicate that anything sinister went on. It's for us to … rally round this community who are hurting and for a very good reason," Insp Gray said.

He encouraged students affected by her death to seek support through police, victim support and other agencies.

Vice-chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne said the university would work with police as they continued to investigate the incident.

"We are deeply saddened by what occurred last night. We are supporting the family of the student who died," she said.

"Our staff are working with them today, and will continue to do so, at this very difficult time."

The Otago University Students' Association said in a statement it offered condolences to the family and those affected.

The university has confirmed it has plans to lease the flat from the owners in 2020, and attempts have been made to contact the landlords of the property.

This article originally appeared in the NZ Herald and was reproduced with permission