By Robert Mills
BOXBORO — Police say a Honda Accord struck a guardrail along Interstate 495 in Boxboro early yesterday morning, leaving two men who were wearing seat belts unhurt, a woman without a seat belt suffering from injuries, and an unbuckled 19-year-old dead.
The 19-year-old woman, Nancy Kheam, was a 2010 Lowell High School graduate whose death left friends devastated as they recalled Kheam’s constant smile and ability to turn the everyday details of life into stories that would brighten a day.
“She was a good spirit,” said Kheam’s friend, Adrian Figueroa. “You could talk to her about anything. She was very understanding. She’s a friend that anyone would want.”
State police and detectives attached to Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone’s Office are still investigating what caused the single-car crash that claimed Kheam’s life.
State police spokesman David Procopio said troopers were called to the northbound lanes of the interstate, south of Route 2, at 3:23 a.m.
There, they found a 2004 Honda Accord that had struck the guardrail after its driver, Dana Kelley, 20, of Westford, lost control. Procopio and Cara O’Brien, a spokeswoman for Leone, both said the cause of the crash remained under investigation last night. No one had been charged as of last night.
Kelley and a front-seat passenger, Kurt Boyd, 21, also of Westford, were both wearing seat belts and were unhurt, Procopio said. Kheam and Kayla Delisi, 22, of Salem, were in the back seat without seat belts on.
Delisi was taken to Emerson Hospital in Concord with non-life-threatening injuries. Procopio said Kheam was killed instantly upon impact. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
State police detectives from Leone’s office, along with troopers from the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction and Crime Scene Services sections, continue to investigate the crash.
Kheam’s sister answered the door of her family’s home on Ware Street in the Lower Highlands with tears in her eyes yesterday. She requested time to grieve before the family speaks in public.
Figueroa met Kheam when the two were sophomores at Lowell High School. They were introduced by a friend and grew close. Kheam even got Figueroa a job at the Blue Stove at Nordstrom restaurant in the Burlington Mall. Kheam was a hostess there for more than a year.
Figueroa said Kheam had a way of telling stories about her everyday life that would crack people up.
“Her stories were always funny,” he said. “She was always smiling about everything. Even if something went wrong, she would smile about it and make a joke out of it.
“She was my best friend.”
Yesterday, Laquisha Delgado covered Kheam’s shift at the Blue Stove. Kheam had taken a rare Sunday off to enjoy her weekend. Her co-workers learned of her death as they arrived at work.
“This is devastating,” Delgado said.
Kheam was attending UMass Lowell and working at the restaurant, where Delgado said she worked hard and was incredibly talented at greeting the strangers who would walk through the doors.
“That girl is such a breath of fresh air,” Delgado said.
“She was one of those girls that liked to do everything fun,” Figueroa said. “She made everything fun. She was funny, sweet, nice, and she talked to everyone.”
Procopio said wearing a seat belt is important no matter where in a car a person is seated, as seat belts reduce the risk of traumatic impact and ejection.
“We absolutely urge all motorists — front- and back-seat occupants alike — to wear a belt as the best protection in a crash,” Procopio wrote in an email. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family of the young woman who died.”
Delgado still refuses to use the past tense when speaking of Kheam.
“I know she’s gone, but no matter what you do when you think about her, you smile,” Delgado said. “She can’t be replaced, ever.”