Photography student dies in head-on collision

St. Edward’s University student, Emily Palmer-Dunham, died in the early morning hours of Oct. 23 in a car accident on MoPac Boulevard. 

Robert Murphy Jr. also died in the accident when Palmer-Dunham, 26, drove her Honda Civic southbound on the northbound lanes of the highway and collided with  Murphy’s Chevrolet Malibu head on, according to the Austin Police Department. 

Murphy, a 48-year-old father of three was the manager of the command and control center of FreightWatch International, an Austin-based security company. He was pronounced dead after being rushed to St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, according to the Austin Police Department.

Police estimated that Palmer-Dunham was traveling up to 80 mph. She was pronounced dead at the scene at about 12:52 a.m. 

An autopsy was performed and toxicology test results will take about eight weeks to come back, according to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s office.

Murphy’s family has not spoken publicly about the accident, but friends and family have expressed their grief online. 

Murphy’s older sister, Lita Murphy Letourneau, commented on the online obituary that as children, her and her “baby brother” were inseparable.

“My heart is filled with precious memories of you and our escapades,” she wrote. “I will forever be your Big Sister.”

Palmer-Dunham was a native of Iowa and a senior studying Photocommunications. Palmer-Dunham was in her final semester.

“Emily always made her own way,” Stephen Dunham, her father, said. “She was not really a joiner. She was quite unique.”

Dunham said his family feels “incredibly blessed to be surrounded by so much love and support.”

A fellow Photocommunications student, Senior Brittany Laurent, described Palmer-Dunham’s work as “both refined and complex.”

According to her obituary from Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Services in her hometown Iowa City, Iowa, Palmer-Dunham was born in Milwaukee, Wis., to Stephen Dunham and Donna Palmer.

Before moving to Austin, Palmer-Dunham lived in Iowa City where she studied cello at the Preucil School of Music, graduated from City High School in 2005 and attended the University of Iowa for three years.

Palmer-Dunham’s is survived by her father Stephen Dunham, her stepmother Lora Morgan Dunham, her grandmother Dorothy Dunham and her stepbrother Benjamin Morgan.

Bill Kennedy, associate professor of Photocommunications, described Palmer-Dunham as a bright light and an inspiration.

Nolan Green, a senior Photocommunications major, described the students in his field as a close family devastated as news of the death of one of their own reached them.

“We’re such a small community,” Green said. “There are only 15-18 students in this year’s graduating class, so something like this really hits hard, especially to those close to her.”

Since September, Palmer-Dunham interned for PhotoHive, a non-profit in San Antonio in addition to two other jobs. 

The founder and president of PhotoHive, Sarah Sudhoff, only met Palmer-Dunham once in person but was “very upset” and “disappointed on a lot of levels” when Kennedy called her with the news.

At the beginning of the summer, Palmer-Dunham contacted Sudhoff in the hopes that she could intern with the artist that she admired. 

Sudhoff asked if she could help her with PhotoHive, which aims to help photography students exhibit their work.

Palmer-Dunham helped Sudhoff by making flyers and promoting her non-profit. Sudhoff hoped that as an intern, Palmer-Dunham could experience what goes into running a photo gallery and non-profit.

Murphy’s coworkers at FreightWatch International were also grieving.

“We are shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic news. Our thoughts are with Robert’s family and with the families of the others who were impacted by this tragic accident,” Elizabeth Darragh, senior director for global marketing communications, said in a phone interview. 

A visitation was held for Murphy on Oct. 26 at Beck Funeral Home.

Murphy’s family could not be reached for comment at press time. 

Condolences may be sent to Palmer-Dunham’s family to P.O. Box 134, Lone Tree, Iowa, 52755. 

Funeral services will take place in Iowa City.

Memorial donations may be made to PhotoHive, the scholarship fund at St. Edwards University located at or the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.