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US grad student dies in Ghana crash

20-year-old UC student studying abroad was on bus; 3 other students injured

Brenna Fessenden, a 2004 Maria Carrillo High School graduate studying in Africa, died Monday in a bus accident in Ghana.

Fessenden, 20, was participating in the University of California's Education Abroad Program in the African nation. She and three other students were returning from a weekend trip to a game preserve in Mole National Park, located north of the city of Accra.

Few details about the accident in Ghana were available Tuesday. But family members said they were told the accident apparently involved a "smallish bus" that may have rolled over, said Eric Fessenden of Santa Rosa, Brenna Fessenden's father.

"She was having an amazing experience. Every time she called it was just another great story," said her father, a school teacher at Alta Mira Middle School in Sonoma.

"She was loving it, but she was also counting the days till she came home," he said.

Fessenden, who had been in Ghana for a semester-long study program since mid-July, was scheduled to return to Santa Rosa on Dec. 19. Bruce Hanna, communications director for the universitywide study-abroad office in Goleta, said the three other program participants are in stable condition and that all the families have been notified.

Their names were not immediately available.

Fessenden's father said she was a model student who recently attained standing as a senior during her third year at UC Santa Cruz, where she was majoring in psychology.

He said that at Maria Carrillo, Fessenden excelled in her studies, taking advanced placement classes. He described his daughter as the kind of person who was thrilled to discover new places and cultures, noting she had been to Europe twice and once to China.

"That's why she chose Ghana, because it was very different," he said. "She always felt a little isolated going to Rincon Valley and Maria Carrillo."

Maria Carrillo Principal Mark Klick said Fessenden was a person who wanted to make a difference in life and would always reach out to people.

Klick said that while at the Santa Rosa high school, Fessenden earned a 4.0-plus grade point average and also received a community service award, which is given to students who do more than 100 hours of community service within a single year.

Fessenden was a music lover and played saxophone in Maria Carrillo's school jazz band, symphony and wind ensemble. She also loved to express herself through writing.

"She was totally willing to let her child out, but was also very mature and composed when she needed to be," Eric Fessenden said.

"She was beautiful," he said. "She was known as the 'Golden Child' - always upbeat and a problem solver."

In addition to her father, Fessenden is survived by her 14-year-old sister, Ainslee, and by her mother, Kristie Gardner, a teacher who works with independent study students at many Santa Rosa high schools.

Eric Fessenden said it could take a week or more before his daughter's body is returned to California. Services will be announced at a later date.


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