St. Paul Highland Park High graduate dies in Bolivia after crash

Tamar Kaplan was a nationally ranked debater and a scholar.

A graduate of Highland Park High School died on Sunday in Bolivia from injuries sustained in a car accident, according to her CaringBridge web site.

Tamar Kaplan, 20, spent the fall semester studying in Quito, Ecuador, and was traveling to Bolivia at the time of the crash. Kaplan and a friend were on a tour in a Land Rover when they were involved in an accident on Jan. 2, according to the CaringBridge site.

Kaplan was seriously injured and taken to the nearest hospital. She received basic care for what doctors diagnosed as a broken femur and clavicle and a partially collapsed right lung.

Her friend was badly bruised.

Kaplan's father arrived at the hospital on Saturday. Kaplan and her father departed via ambulance that evening for La Paz, Bolivia's largest city, located seven hours away. Kaplan's condition worsened, and her lungs filled with fluid.

According to her site, the ambulance stopped at a hospital three hours from La Paz. Kaplan was unconscious and her vital signs were weak.

She was placed on a ventilator, and an evaluation revealed that her injuries were more serious than first thought. She had extensive thoracic trauma, damage to both lungs, broken ribs and other broken bones.

Arrangements were being made to fly her to a major trauma center hours away, but she died in her sleep just before midnight on Sunday.

Kaplan was a student at Claremont McKenna College.

At Highland Park High School, Kaplan was remembered on Monday as an accomplished debater. In 2010, she teamed with classmate Andrew Hall to win the state championship in policy debate. That year, the duo also placed second at the National Association for Urban Debate League competition in New York City.

Then, competing on her own, Kaplan won a national award by placing sixth in the 2010 National Forensic League tournament in Kansas City -- again in the category of policy debate.

As a high school senior, Kaplan attended classes at the University of Minnesota as part of the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program. She went on to graduate in the top 10 of her high school class in 2010, according to Toya Stewart Downey, a school district spokeswoman.

Earlier, Kaplan had attended Horace Mann School in the Highland Park area and spent part of her 10th-grade year in Australia, Stewart Downey said.

"She was a bright and gifted student, and the St. Paul schools are saddened by her death," she said.

Kaplan's CaringBridge site featured a journal entry she wrote about four days she spent in the Amazon that illustrated her sense of adventure and intellectual curiosity. She marveled at the biodiversity -- "glow-in-the-dark mushrooms and a transparent frog with a visible digestive system" -- and wrote about a climb into the canopy where a monkey stared her down. She hiked through the rainforest in pitch black darkness and ate ants.

"I ate ants!" Kaplan wrote. "They are a specific type of ant that lives inside a tree and kills any other plant that gets near the tree. They tasted like lemon. It was actually good once you got over the idea of putting bugs in your mouth."

Kaplan's family did not return a call seeking comment.

cxiong@startribune.com • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib Anthony.Lonetree@startribune.com • 651-925-5036

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