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Eckerd student, 18, killed in early morning I-275 crash

A crash early Saturday on Interstate 275 killed an 18-year-old Eckerd College student, sending a shock through the campus.

"This is just a tremendous tragedy for our community," said James Annarelli, Eckerd dean of students.

The Florida Highway Patrol said Laura Gorman, a freshman, was riding with 18-year-old Jessica Rasdall on I-275 around 3:30 Saturday morning when the Honda Civic they were in veered off the road, hit two small trees and rolled. The car then hit a larger tree.

Gorman died at the scene.

Rasdall, who is not an Eckerd student, was in stable condition Saturday evening at Bayfront Medical Center.

No charges were immediately filed but the investigation was continuing, the Highway Patrol said.

Annarelli said the school sent an e-mail about the accident to the staff, faculty and students after being notified Saturday afternoon.

At 9 p.m., the campus' Griffin Chapel held about 35 people who had come to mourn. Annarelli expected more students to trickle in as they found out about the accident.

Counselors will be available to students today and will be on call after today if still needed, said Lisa Mets, the executive assistant to the president at Eckerd College.

"This is, thankfully, not something we face very often," Annarelli said, pointing out it had been two years since a student had died.

The news traveled fast to teachers and former students who knew Gorman at Gibbs High School. Gorman, a student in the school's Beta Program, graduated from Gibbs in 2005. The petite girl with long brown hair was remembered for a sense of style and as a model student.

"You wanted every student to be like Laura Gorman," said English teacher Alexis Novak, who taught Gorman in both her freshman and senior years. "She was just a great kid, such a nice person, and she was a sweetheart. For me, it was fun to watch her grow up. This is such a huge heartbreak for all of us."

Chase Dafnis said many people came to know Laura through her mother, Helen Gorman, who had been a guidance counselor at Gibbs.

"(Laura) was a very active person. Extremely friendly," said Dafnis, now a sophomore studying management of information systems at the University of South Florida. "I know she made everyone happy, especially her parents."