LEWISTON — A Lewiston woman who died Monday in a dramatic crash on the Maine Turnpike was remembered Tuesday as courageous in sharing her story to encourage other Somali girls to pursue educations.
Safia Ahmed, 23, was driving on a learner's permit when the vehicle she was driving swerved into the oncoming lane and crashed into traffic, said Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland.
The 1997 Buick Century vaulted, went through the medium strip, became airborne, flipped over and crashed on its roof on top of a Chevrolet Malibu traveling in the opposite direction, McCausland said.
Ahmed died instantly, police said. Her passenger, Warsam Elmi, 21, of
Lewiston, was taken to Maine Medical Center for multiple injuries. As
of Tuesday afternoon, Elmi was in critical condition, McCausland said.
The Malibu was driven by Joshua Emery, 21, of Mechanic Falls, who hurt his arm in the crash. "Given the severity of the crash, he was extremely lucky," McCausland said.
Police didn't know what prompted Ahmed to swerve into the oncoming lane. McCausland said she was on her way home from Boston. Before the crash, she stopped along the road in the breakdown lane, then re-entered the turnpike, he said.
Ahmed was among a group of refugees who in 2008 wrote about their experiences of coming to Lewiston from Kenya and Somalia. The book is titled "They Were Very Beautiful. Such Things Are."
Patricia Buck, a Bates College English professor, was one of the book's editors who got to know Ahmed when the group met weekly.
"I remember Safia being especially courageous," Buck said. "Parts of her story were hard to share and might have been controversial within her community. She was very brave and determined. She was thrilled to be here and have access to education."
In her memoir, Ahmed talked about her decision to elope rather than pursue her education, Buck said. "Her story is about how much she regrets that. . . . She talked about if you choose to get married, you put yourself in a vulnerable position," Buck said, adding that Ahmed and her husband had divorced.
Their young daughter is "remarkable," Buck said. "She is devastated. She's with her dad."
Ahmed shared her story to encourage her own daughter and other young women to stay in school, Buck said.
At a celebration of the book project, Ahmed volunteered to read her story, Buck said. "She was learning to read and write in English; she was pretty high-skilled." But reading her story in front of a crowd of 100 took courage, the professor said.
"The last I knew she was taking classes in adult education," Buck said.
Anne Kemper of Lewiston Adult Education said Ahmed was a former student who used to come to the center with her little girl. She stopped coming to classes about two years ago, Kemper said. "The faculty remembers her well and fondly. Everybody's shook up here."
Ahmed's friend Sahra Hibib of Lewiston, who also participated in the "They Were Very Beautiful" book, remembered Tuesday how Ahmed used to talk about getting her green card and driving a car one day.
Hibib said she couldn't believe her friend was gone. "I'm very sorry she died. ... She would help you. She was a nice person, a good person."