The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Student killed in auto crash

Submitted

Before she was killed by an accused drunken driver, Samantha Cullen wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities.

Cullen, a junior last semester at UW-Eau Claire and special education major, was killed on her way home to Brooklyn, Wis. after finals last spring on May 19.

“Her world revolved around helping people,” said Sarah Hadden, Cullen’s adviser in the special education department. “Her contribution to the kids is really going to be missed.”

After she finished her last final on May 18, Cullen was driving home when she was hit by a 34-year-old Madison man who was driving northbound in the southbound lane of Highway 14, near Madison. The accident happened at about 12:45 a.m. on Saturday. She was about 20 miles from her home.

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Blood alcohol tests showed Ramon O. Medina-Fuentes had a level above .2 percent. This was his third O.W.I. ticket. According to Madison police, he was driving without headlights and his license had been revoked.

Cullen was pronounced dead at the scene. Medina-Fuentes was hospitalized briefly and treated for a broken leg.

“This is a great loss, not only for Sam’s family, but for kids with disabilities,” said Hadden.

Last semester, Cullen worked at Immaculate Conception School in a pre-student teaching position and she loved her work there, Hadden said.

“She was anxious to become a teacher,” she said.

Dorothy Kremm, Cullen’s mother, agreed and was always willing to come home on weekends to help her mother with her 23-year-old brother, James, who has spina bifida.

“Family was very important to her,” said Kremm, who also has another son, Nathaniel, 28. “But she also dedicated herself to the kids she worked with.”

Cullen attended Winona State University in Minnesota for a year and a half before coming to Eau Claire because she liked its education program, Kremm said.

Kremm described her daughter as “the girl next door” who liked to work on fixing cars with her brothers.

“She was your typical college student,” she said. “She was always trying to be the best she could.”

Cullen was an honor student and a member of the Kappa Delta Phi honor society.

She lived in Katharine Thomas Hall last semester and planned on returning there this fall, Kremm said.

Jennifer Zahratka was Cullen’s roommate since the spring of 2000 and said Sam was a great student who loved to help children.

She remembers packing up their room and hugging her goodbye when Cullen left for home last spring, never knowing it would be the last time she would see her alive.

“I still remember it very well,” Zahratka said.

Zahratka said Cullen loved to go running, play Nintendo, go to Perkins and goof around.

“She was a great friend to me,” she said. “She was much more than a roommate, she was one of my best friends.”

Medina-Fuentes was charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle and is awaiting trial.

Kremm said that her daughter’s death shows the importance of drinking responsibly.

“The life you take could be yours,” she said fighting back tears, “but it also could be someone else’s.”

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Student killed in auto crash