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Yale Students Mourn Scituate Woman Killed In Lab Accident

By John Christoffersen, Associated Press
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Michele Dufault (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

Michele Dufault (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A Yale University student nearing graduation was killed inside a school lab when her hair was pulled into a piece of machine-shop equipment, an official said Wednesday.

Michele Dufault, a senior majoring in astronomy, died Tuesday night “in what appears to have been a terrible accident involving a piece of equipment,” school officials said. The school said the accident took place inside a chemistry lab machine shop on a piece of equipment that has a rotating drive to shape wood, metal, and other material.

On Wednesday night, students held a vigil remembering Michele.

 WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano reports

“By all reports, Michele was an exceptional young woman, an outstanding student and young scientist, a dear friend and a vibrant member of this community,” Yale Vice President Linda Lorimer wrote in a message to Yale students and faculty. “We will find ways in the next day to gather to celebrate her life and grieve her loss.”

The university told the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration that Dufault was operating the machinery for a senior project when she was killed, according to Kang Yi, an assistant area director for OSHA in Bridgeport, Conn. New Haven authorities received a 911 call about the accident at around 2:30 a.m., police spokesman Joe Avery said.

OSHA was reviewing jurisdiction in the case and evaluating whether it would conduct an inspection, said Ted Fitzgerald, an agency spokesman in Boston.

In a Facebook profile picture, Dufault is shown with long brown hair that fell below her shoulders.

Dufault was from Scituate, and was graduating in a month, said her grandfather Robert Dufault. She studied constantly and loved sports, he said.

“She was a living saint,” the grandfather said. “She was a good, smart girl.”

An uncle called her brilliant.

“She’s a wonderful, wonderful kid and that should be celebrated. There’s nothing but good things to say about her,” said Frederick Dufault, of Holliston, Mass.

At the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass., where Dufault graduated in 2007, Head of School Robert Henderson Jr. said those who knew her were drawn to her personal strength, modesty, good humor and perseverance.

“Michele was an extraordinary young woman, one of the most precocious students who her teachers ever encountered,” Henderson said. “She was simply brilliant. Her mind, her sense of curiosity, her perceptiveness, her sensitivity, and her enjoyment of what she did were extraordinary. She was a true intellectual. She was also distinctly humble, seemingly unaffected by her prodigious talent and academic attainments.”

On its website, Yale’s chemistry department says it maintains a state-of-the-art machine shop in which students, faculty and staff can build or modify research instruments. Access is limited to those who have completed a shop course, according to the website.

Yale was offering counseling to students. The lab was closed Wednesday and classes were canceled in the building that houses the lab.

Yale police are leading the investigation, New Haven police spokesman Avery said.

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Associated Press writer Michael Melia contributed to this report from Hartford, Conn.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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