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Former UC Berkeley student in coma after collision with SUV

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JUNE 20, 2012

After a collision with an SUV while riding her bike last week, former UC Berkeley student Brittany Gunnell sustained life-threatening head injuries.

Gunnell was returning home from a musical theater rehearsal at 8:40 p.m. when the accident occurred in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles. Gunnell was thrown into the street, and is currently at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in a medically-induced coma.

The collision caused Gunnell fall into the street, where a crowd of around thirty people quickly grew. A few minutes after the accident, Gunnell’s mother and sister drove by the accident scene on their way home and saw Gunnell.

“She was hit maybe a minute before we got there,” said Gunnell’s mother Denise O’Brien. “I ran to her and scooped her up, and held her airway passages open all the way to the hospital.”

One week later, Gunnell has undergone several surgeries for a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, as well as considerable swelling and hemorrhaging, according to O’Brien. Gunnell has already had three surgeries to address these problems, and will undergo two more in the upcoming week. As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, the swelling in her brain is significantly reduced, giving family and friends a hopeful sign, O’Brien said.

Gunnell was taking classes at Santa Monica College after taking time off from UC Berkeley, for which she had been awarded a full academic scholarship to attend.

O’Brien said her daughter is known for her beautiful singing voice and aspires to be an actress. Gunnell was starring in a local production of the Broadway musical “Annie” at the time of the accident.

“She is so spiritual, and loves her friends,” O’Brien said. “And we all absolutely adore her because she is so friendly and loving to everyone.”

Gunnell and her family have received a large amount of community support during this time, as many caring friends and members have brought food, taken care of the family home and all sent prayers prayers, according to her mother, O’Brien said.

O’Brien is keeping family and friends updated through a website which documents Gunnell’s day-to-day progress, as well as through Facebook and Twitter.

Contact Rebecca Cohen at 


JUNE 21, 2012