In Memoriam

On January 17, 2003, the Yale University community was devastated by the deaths of four of its finest young men, Kyle Burnat, Andrew Dwyer, Sean Fenton and Nick Grass, as a result of a car accident on a dark and icy northeast winter night. These students were not just anyone to us; they were our best friends, teammates and fraternity brothers.

“This [was] as black a day as I’ve seen”, said Richard Brodhead, former Yale University Dean, who added, “these were young people in their prime, people who had everything in front of them.”

Those words were devastatingly accurate to us all, and we would hope that the pain of that day and loss of such bright futures should not have to be experienced by anyone. We decided, as a group, to honor the lives of our friends by working to ensure young men and women are given the tools to maximize the great opportunities for success and happiness in their lives.

Sean Fenton

Sean Fenton, a native of Newport Beach, California, showed ingenuity and dedication from an early age. In sixth grade, Fenton had to earn $150 to buy a bike. Ignoring baby-sitting and lawn-mowing, Fenton started a brownie business, passing out flyers and buying ingredients himself. The one-man operation earned him over $1,000.

Fenton also showed an early love of sports that would follow him to Yale, playing football and baseball and running track in grade school and high school.

“Sean really was one of the hardest working football players at our school,” said Joshua Yelsey (Yale ’05 grad), who had known Fenton since grade school and was on Fenton’s high school track team.

Sean majored in computer science at Yale, and friends recounted how Fenton would help them with their computers and was generous with his encouragement. He took special pride in his job as a computer assistant, but he seldom billed Yale for the work he did for his friends. His father recalled his son’s dedication to his friends at Sean’s memorial service. “Anyone who knew him knew that,” he said.

Sean also took special pride in his strength. None of the weights in the Davenport weight room were heavy enough to satisfy him. But ultimately, Sean was a gentle giant whose friends and teachers affectionately recalled his athletic prowess, his love for challenges, his helpfulness and his skill with computers, among other attributes.

“Sean connected with so many people, and he always gave people a big, friendly smile,” said Davenport College Master Dr. Richard Schottenfeld, who also recounted how Sean spent the prior summer building a computer from scratch.

Rene Peralta, a lecturer in computer science who taught Sean, recalled how he was grateful to have had the Yale junior as his student. “I remember thinking that guys that big and strong shouldn’t be that smart,” he said of the former Yale football player.

Nicholas Grass

At Holyoke High School in western Massachusetts , Nick – an American studies major at Yale – succeeded in the classroom while excelling in athletics. A four-year varsity letter-winner, he was named all-Western Massachusetts in both baseball and football, and was Western Massachusetts Player of the Year in baseball his senior year. Like Kyle, he too was a right-handed pitcher for the Yale baseball team.

In a Jan. 21 Yale Daily News article about him, Nick was remembered for his spiritedness and his love of fun. “He was funny, outgoing and caring,” said Steven Duke (Yale ’03 grad and Chairman of the Bulldogs Care Foundation). “He wouldn’t be mean to anybody. He was just a great-hearted kid.”

According to his Holyoke High School baseball coach Tom Brassil, “He was always a leader, even when he wasn’t a captain.” Brassil said Nick’s success as a student-athlete served as a model for younger players, even after the pitcher graduated. Yet it was his willingness to work and practice hard that were the keys to his success – both on and off the field.

Nick’s ability as a pitcher was particularly evident in the summer of 2002, when he was named an All-Star in the prestigious Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, which has sent over 70 players to professional baseball. In competing against other college players, Grass was dominant – while a starter for the Long Island Collegians, he finished 6-1 with 43 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.57.

He was a tough kid on the baseball field who wasn’t afraid of anybody and he held his friends and teammates paramount to all else. Through it all, he always had a smile on his face.

While Nick’s family, friends, and team were always in his mind, he kept an eye on his future as well. Adam Barrick (Yale ’05 grad) said, “He thought he would be the first to get married and that he’d find a girl he was crazy about. It’s just the kind of spontaneous thing that Nick would do.”

Kyle Burnat

Kyle Burnat was a native of Atlanta and a 2001 graduate of Woodward Academy – a private school in an Atlanta suburb – where he had won the Coca-Cola Golden Helmet Award for academic and athletic excellence. Burnat continued his athletic pursuits at Yale as a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher for the Yale baseball team. He was an enthusiastic teammate who cracked jokes to keep everyone upbeat.

At 19, he had already spent summers working for Sen. Zell Miller on Capitol Hill and the Alston and Bird law firm in Atlanta. Known for his love of history, Kyle aced his Advanced Placement exam in a mere 15 minutes.

According to his father, Kyle knew immediately that Yale was the place for him. He loved every minute he spent there, and in turn touched the lives of countless friends and teammates. While he had not yet declared a major, he was interested in a career in business or law and also loved history and politics.

In a Jan. 21 memorial piece about him in the Yale Daily News, his friends recalled his intelligence, his modesty and his abilities on the pitcher’s mound. Kyle was a star pitcher on the baseball field, a leader in the classroom, and a role model to his peers – but if you knew him, you also knew his modesty. “He rarely talked about himself,” said Paul Pabst, who works for ESPN. “He never bragged about being good enough to play college baseball.”

Kyle also enjoyed lifting weights and loved oldies music, and was “everybody’s friend,” according to Chris Freer, the dean of students at Woodward Academy. Classmates recall how he had a knack to make everyone happy and to make everyone laugh – Kyle was the life of the party.

Andrew Dwyer

Andrew was born June 21, 1982 in Bedford, the son of Cynthia and Andrew Dwyer. He was a 1998 honor roll graduate of Rippowam-Cisqua School in Bedford, where he played three varsity sports, and a 2001 honor roll graduate of Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., where he played varsity lacrosse and captained the paddle tennis team. Andrew was a member of Yale’s Class of 2005 and of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon.

An obsessive sports fan, Andrew, known as “Dogg” to his friends, was a tough competitor as well. He and a friend resurrected the dormant paddle tennis team at Hotchkiss and built a new team that defeated Salisbury for the first time in school history. His faculty adviser at Hotchkiss recalled Andrew by saying, “He was rarely without a grin on his face and he had this sort of charming way of glancing at you with this half a grin that you knew would be a full grin the minute he made eye contact with you. It was just funny the way he would reach you.”

Andrew is remembered affectionately for his idiosyncrasies and his generosity: he embraced cheeseburgers and cheesedogs, never wavering in his rejection of vegetables. He ordered food for friends, day or night, often picking up the tab, and never met a prank or a person he did not like. He had the uncanny ability to weave humor into serious situations and always looked for ways to lift the spirits of others. A friend said, “he was the most loving, caring, compassionate person I ever met – ever.” Paul Ardire (Yale ’02 grad and President of the Bulldogs Care Foundation) said, “all these special characteristics made it so easy to see how Andrew created a large base of friends within his first few weeks on campus.”

Andrew was seldom out-argued and planned to major in political science at Yale. He quickly found solutions to problems, always with a selflessness that led to a multitude of friendships. Nearly all of his friends, whether from Bedford, Hotchkiss, Fishers Island or Yale, considered him their best friend. “He always lifted everyone’s spirits,” his roommate, Tony Bellino (Yale ’05 grad), said. “He was everyone’s friend.” Bellino also described Dwyer as a “sports nut” whose knowledge made him like a “sports encyclopedia.”