2021 College graduate Dennis Ronel was struck by a car near Penn’s campus in May, just five days before Commencement. The Penn community and his friends and family are supporting his recovery efforts and have called on the University to address pedestrian safety.
Ronel was hit at the intersection of 40th and Sansom Streets and sustained "severe brain injuries and multiple body fractures" from the accident, according to Ronel's family. A GoFundMe fundraiser created by his family for his recovery expenses has garnered over $56,000 in funds since May 22.
“Dennis was crossing the street with his classmates next to his university and was hit by a reckless driver at a very high speed,” the fundraiser wrote. “It is a miracle that he survived the devastating impact.”
Ronel's insurance does not cover the costs of rehabilitation, according to the fundraiser.
Due to his injuries, Ronel was unable to attend Penn's Commencement in person. Instead, he watched the ceremony remotely from his hospital room, though he said that he does not remember doing so.
“I was somehow in my [graduation] robe. I guess the nurse put it on me, and we watched Commencement virtually,” Ronel said.
Ronel’s accident prompted an outpouring of support from family, friends, and alumni from Penn as well as his high school and middle school. Former classmates and peers took to social media platforms and the GoFundMe comment section to wish him well.
2021 College graduate Zovinar Khrimian, who has been friends with Ronel since high school, described him as a “really likable, really amiable person,” remarking on his personal growth.
“Although Dennis has always been this kind of bright light to a lot of people’s lives, I think as he’s gotten older, he’s been able to use it to really bring people lasting happiness and friendship,” Khrimian said.
While at Penn, Ronel was a part of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Society, Penn Mock Trial, and the theater scene on campus. His family wrote that he also was a singer and Honors student.
College and Wharton senior Gabby Cabeza, the current president of Penn Mock Trial, described Ronel as genuine and full of positive energy.
Since Ronel's accident, Penn Mock Trial has organized a group donation to the GoFundMe, collecting funds from club alumni and current members to support his recovery, Cabeza said. In addition, 2021 College graduate Hannah Paquet, the former chair of Front Row Theatre Company, of which Ronel was a member, shared that a group donation from Front Row is still "in the works."
Ronel reported feeling encouraged by the community's concern for him. The show of support “reminded me that there was goodness out there,” he said.
Ronel's accident also reignited criticisms of pedestrian safety on and near Penn's campus. The street where the accident occurred was poorly lit, and was notorious for having cars that drove well above the speed limit, Khrimian said.
“I’m not surprised this happened on Sansom Street,” Khrimian said, adding that reckless drivers have been a constant issue.
Cabeza said that Penn and the city of Philadelphia can “do more for pedestrians” by posting clearer road signs for high-density walking areas to better regulate drivers’ behavior and focus on the safety of pedestrians.
Paquet said she thinks that pedestrian safety around campus is an issue that concerns both pedestrians and drivers, noting how anyone can be careless. But, she added that Penn can further support its students by disseminating education about road safety in the city.
Ronel advised others to be “extremely careful” when crossing the street, adding that the accident has changed his outlook on life.
“I went through something nobody wants,” Ronel said. “Think about the little things that you don’t think about everyday. These little things can change your life. Be really, really careful with what you do.”