Summer at Duke marred by deaths

This summer, the Duke community not only joined the nation in mourning the death of former president Ronald Reagan but also grieved the losses of an employee of the graduate school and two Duke students.

Curt Blackman, 38, who was a coordinator for graduate recruitment and minority programs, was found stabbed to death in his Hilton Avenue apartment May 20.

"He had a great, warm personality," said Associate Dean of the Graduate School Leigh DeNeef. "He was very engaging, always ready with a joke, a smile or a song--whatever it took."

About one month later, Durham resident Thomas Pitt confessed to Blackman's murder and was charged for the offense June 5.

    While driving on U.S. Highway 15-501 June 7 with his wife, electrical and computer engineering graduate student Zhaochun Xu, 31, veered off the road and into a tree after his car was hit by another vehicle. Although his wife survived, Xu died early the next day as a result of injuries suffered from the accident.

"The Pratt community is saddened by the death of Zhaochun Xu," said Pratt School of Engineering Dean Kristina Johnson. "It is a particular tragedy when someone so young, with so much potential, passes away."

Another fatal car accident took the life of another Duke student, senior football star Micah Harris, June 12. Harris, 21, apparently fell asleep at the wheel while driving on Interstate 85 through Virginia. His 1989 Volvo struck a tree in the median and burst into flames.

"He was just the type of guy that you can put him to anyone and you instantly like the guy," said quarterback and best friend Chris Dapolito.


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