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Fayette schools psychologist dies in Ohio crash

A longtime Fayette County Public Schools psychologist and special education advocate was killed Sunday when her minivan flipped four times on an Ohio highway.

Debra O'Connell and her family were on their way back from a vacation in Cape Cod, Mass., when the wreck occurred, killing O'Connell and injuring her husband and two adult children.

Police said O'Connell was driving a 2005 Dodge Caravan southbound on Interstate 71 in Clinton County, about 50 miles northeast of Cincinnati, when it drifted off the left edge of the road. O'Connell swerved back onto the road and overcorrected, going left again. The van flipped four times, coming to rest in the median.

O'Connell, 56, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a news release from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Her husband, Lenahan O'Connell, 64, and their children, Michael O'Connell, 29, and Elizabeth O'Connell, 22, were taken to area hospitals.

The three survivors had been released from the hospitals and were on their way home Monday afternoon, said Diann Shuffett, special education administrator for Fayette County Public Schools.

Shuffett said Debra O'Connell, known as "Debbie" to her friends and colleagues, had just finished her 20th year as a school psychologist. She helped pioneer the psychology program, which supports students during difficult times and identifies and works with students who might need special education.

O'Connell worked at Clays Mill, Harrison and William Wells Brown elementary schools. She held a doctorate from the University of Kentucky, Shuffett said, but most of her studies were done at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

"She was a very kind and giving person," Shuffett said. "She was just a real strength for our program and for our staff, and she will be greatly missed."

The crash was being investigated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

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