Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Raw grief at vigil for four USF students killed by wrong-way driver (w/video)

TAMPA — The four young men had died so suddenly, so violently, that no one quite knew what to say at Thursday's memorial.

There was talk about celebrating young lives, but raw grief overtook the gathering of about 1,000 people on a University of South Florida lawn. Friends, acquaintances — even strangers — passed tissue boxes while the men's family members filled the front rows, facing photos of each: Jobin Kuriakose, 21. Ankeet Patel, 22. Dammie Yesudhas, 21. Imtiyaz "Jim" Ilias, 20. They were killed early Sunday by a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 275.

The four men came from different cities, practiced different religions and planned different careers. But they were close friends and brothers of Sigma Beta Rho, a multicultural fraternity.

On Thursday, three dozen fraternity brothers attended the memorial all wearing black with green ties. The national fraternity president flew in for the ceremony.

Ilias' brother tried to tell the crowd about Jim, but he could not get the words out between sobs. Yesudhas' brother said simply, "I love you, bro," and then played Somewhere Over the Rainbow on the ukulele.

USF president Judy Genshaft told the crowd that the four will be getting honorary degrees. Friends shared good memories, relayed between tears.

There was Jobin, who loved dancing, even though his moves mainly involved simply jumping around. He had recently started listening to romantic Hindi songs. He was studying political science and wanted to be a lawyer.

There was Ankeet, the eldest, sometimes called "Grandpa" by his friends. He'd constantly talk to his sister about wanting to work one day for Goldman Sachs.

"Do you think the boss will hate it if I had a better suit than him?" Ankeet once asked.

There was Dammie, a brilliant man, double-majoring in math and mechanical engineering. He used to compete in chess when his family lived in London.

He was going to graduate this semester. He wanted to be an engineer.

There was Imtiyaz, who went by Jim. He leaves behind many siblings, including the youngest, a 6-year-old sister named Zahrah.

Sometimes she still asks, "When is Jimmy coming home?"

Patel's sister, Krupa Patel, said during her last phone conversation with her brother, she got a weird feeling that she should say "I love you," a phrase not usually shared between the siblings.

She didn't, she told the crowd. "And now I'll never get the chance to say it again," breaking down into sobs.

"I think about it all the time," she said. "So please tell the people you love that you love them because you never know when you'll get to say it again."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

   
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