January 30, 2001

Former Cornell Student Drives Car in Fla. School

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A former student in the College of Human Ecology drove her car into a classroom full of fourth graders last Thursday in an apparent attempt to commit suicide.

Victoria Leigh Acierno, 19, drove into the building of Indian Trails elementary school in Palm Coast, Fla. The crash occurred half an hour before school dismissal and resulted in Acierno being charged with attempted murder.

Acierno told witnesses she was trying to kill herself, according to the Associated Press.

“She has been struggling, and we are very sorry to hear about this,” said Jennifer Gerner, associate dean in the College of Human Ecology.

According to Linda Grace-Kobas, director of Cornell News Service, Acierno took a leave of absence from Cornell in July. She had spent two years at the University as a policy analysis and management major.

Acierno’s Pontiac Grand Prix was traveling at approximately 45 miles per hour when she struck the classroom’s brick wall. She ran into a steel reinforcement pole inside the wall, which prevented her car from completely entering the classroom and helped to avoid large-scale injury.

However, the impact of the crash caused debris to fly through the classroom, seriously injuring two children. Barbara Kimberly, the fourth graders’ teacher, suffered a broken vertebra.

After the crash, Acierno checked in to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach for head injuries she had sustained. She was released from the hospital on Saturday.

Upon her release, the Flagler County Sheriff’s office charged Acierno with three counts of attempted murder, one for each serious injury caused by the crash.

The sheriff may increase the charges from three to 27 counts of attempted murder, one count for each of the 26 students and one teacher in the classroom.

Acierno’s father, stepmother and two half-siblings had relocated from New York City to Florida the year before her leave of absence, and she moved in with them after leaving Cornell.

The Orlando Sentinel quoted friend of the family Barbara Davis as saying, “She’s very family-oriented. That big move from New York to Florida — she might not have been able to handle it.”

Indian Trails hired Acierno as a teacher’s aide in Oct. to work with children who have special needs. However, she was not a teacher’s aide in Kimberly’s classroom.

Archived article by Maggie Frank