Hit-and-run victim was UM teacher
Hit-and-run victim was UM teacher

Missoula Police make arrest in assistant professor's death

Missoula Police late Saturday arrested a suspect in the hit-and-run death of a University of Montana faculty member Friday evening near UM's Adams Center.

Detectives did not immediately release further information on the person being held in the death of Marina Kanevskaya, 46, an assistant professor of Russian at UM.

Friends and colleagues described Kanevskaya, as a scholar whose primary concern was always her students.

"She was just a real live wire," said Linda Gillison, chair of the department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. "She had a lot of spunk, a lot of spirit. When I left the office at 5 o'clock (Friday) the only people left in there besides the secretary were Marina, a visiting scholar and two students. They were all in Marina's office deep in conversation about something. That was Marina: She spent an incredible amount of time with her students."

Two hours after Gillison last saw her, the driver of what police said was a Dodge pickup ran over Kanevskaya as she crossed at the intersection of South Sixth Street East and Maurice Avenue while walking to her car.

The driver, described by a witness as a white male between 6 feet and 6 feet 2 inches tall, stocky and dressed in flannel, allegedly stopped, looked at his truck, then climbed back in and drove off over the Madison Street Bridge. The driver of a second car who couldn't see her in the dark then hit Kanevskaya while she lay in the street. That driver stopped and remained at the scene.

Kanevskaya died shortly after being taken to St. Patrick Hospital.

Police had been searching for a full-sized four-wheel drive Dodge Ram pickup from the late 1980s or early '90s with a white cab that has a red stripe approximately 3 inches wide around the lower portion cab, and a box that was described as primer gray.

Missoula Police Sgt. Travis Welsh said earlier Saturday his department had received a number of tips on the suspect and vehicle.

A Russian-born Jew, Kanevskaya escaped with her family to Israel, according to her friends. She was trained as a law librarian but eventually made her way to the United States, where she earned her Ph.D. in Russian literature at the Indiana University.

She spent three years as a visiting professor at UM before becoming a tenure-track assistant professor three years ago.

"In fact, she was in the process of applying to be an associate, and I was in the process of recommending her," Gillison said.

Kanevskaya and her former husband, Misha Levin, had one daughter, Masha, who graduated from Hellgate High School last spring and is a freshman at UM.

Levin and Kanevskaya remained close even after their divorce, according to friends. "They had the best divorce I've ever seen," said Michael Mayer of the UM history department and a friend of the family. "Their divorce was better than some marriages."

Levin, of Washington, D.C., arrived in Missoula on Saturday afternoon to join his daughter.

Kanevskaya studied avant-garde Russian literature from the turn of the century, Mayer said, and his interest in American literature from the same period brought them together, first for discussions over lunch, and later Kanevskaya became a part of the social circle of Mayer and his wife. "She was such a capable scholar, and so dedicated as a teacher," he added.

Kanevskaya led several student trips to Russia, and had just returned a month ago from the countries of Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, where she had served as interpreter for UM President George Dennison and his wife, Jane, who were there to set up exchange programs.

She also had a book published, "N.K. Mikhailovsky's Criticism of Dostoevsky: The Cruel Critic."

"She really nurtured her students, getting them ready for those trips," said Tom Storch, dean of the college of arts and sciences. "The thing I'll remember is how excited she would get about taking students to Russia."

"She was an excellent teacher and vigorous researcher," said Maureen Curnow, who chaired the department when Kanevskaya was hired. "She not only started new classes, students took them. It's an incredible loss."

"A breath of fresh air," Gillison said. "Marina was very passionate about things, and very independent-minded. She had strong opinions, and she was not cowed by much of anything."

According to University Relations director Rita Munzenrider, the campus plans a memorial service for Kanevskaya, but will wait to select a time and date until the family can be consulted.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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