Emma Stanger, a second-year in the College, died in a car accident early Sunday morning. She was 20 years old.
Stanger was driving southbound on I-55 in the Bridgeport neighborhood when she lost control of the car and veered from the left lane into a concrete median wall, according to state police. The reason for the crash, which occurred at 2:53 a.m., has not been determined.
Police responded to the scene. Stanger was taken to Stroger County Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 3:51 a.m.
The investigation into the accident is ongoing.
Emma was in Lincoln Park that night, said her friends, who believe that she was traveling away from campus due to a wrong turn on the highway.
Stanger, who hailed from Worthington, Ohio, is survived by her father Phil Stanger, her brother, Dub, 15, and her sister, Bess, 18. Her mother passed away less than two years ago.
A double major in chemistry and psychology, Stanger will be remembered for the way she could brighten a room and for the intensity the former competitive swimmer brought to everything from problem sets to her daily elliptical workout.
When friends picture Stanger, they see her in shorts, even in winter, and describe her friendship through small reminders: the nail polish she’d apply for her sister, the song she’d blast—New Radicals’ “Someday We’ll Know”—when she and a friend would “make huge important life decisions,” the dessert-and-day-out surprise she coordinated—dropping everything—to pull a Tiramasu-loving friend through a rough patch.
“She was always there for anyone. She was such a generous person,” said second-year Mimi Zhang, one of Stanger’s closest friends. “I admired her so much because she made me want to be a better person.”
Stanger brought determination to the trials life had already thrown her way. Her father recalled the strength that characterized her reaction to her mother’s death.
“She would never show weakness. That was tantamount to admitting defeat,” he said, noting how she told few people about her mother’s death. “My ancestry on my mother’s side was Spartan. She was very Spartan.”
Her roommate and close friend Desiree Dickerson, a second-year also from Ohio, recalled pit-stops at Hardee’s on the way to and from the Buckeye State. On their latest trip, they had a guest with them: Byss, short for Abyss, Stanger’s pound-adopted dog, named for being “completely black, with a black tongue,” Zhang said.
“I lobbied for Jack but she picked Byss,” Stanger’s father said.
“She told me she adopted him because she knew this way she was saving a life,” said second-year Carolanne Fried, one of Stanger’s close friends. Fried is a reporter for the Maroon.
“That’s exactly the kind of thing Emma would do,” she said.
Stanger’s family recalled how she found her niche in Chicago, moving from their small suburban town outside Columbus to a place her sister Bess said she was so enamored with she “probably wouldn’t have moved anywhere else.”
“She reveled in the big city,” her father said. “She loved it—the idea that you could be out at three in the morning.”
Whether flaunting her Guitar-Hero skills or looking chic on a dressy night out, Stanger “could have fun in any situation,” Fried said. She found community at the U of C—in her sorority sisters at Kappa Alpha Theta, with the faculty that worked with her. Even in a 140-person General Chemistry course, professor David Maziotti said she stood out from the crowd.
“She was an exceptional student,” he said. “She just, in particular, had such a great personality.”
Plans for a memorial service and a funeral are still undetermined. Her father will travel to Chicago this week.