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Victims of wrong-way crash remembered at USF memorial

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Published:   |   Updated: February 14, 2014 at 07:34 AM

TAMPA — The brother of one of the victims hung his head at the dais, too distraught to deliver his eulogy.

The brother of another said he “couldn't express in words what I want to say,” and instead played and sang an emotional version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the dead man's ukulele.

It was an emotional afternoon on the MLK Plaza at the University of South Florida as roughly 1,000 students, faculty, family and fraternity brothers paid respects to the four students killed in last weekend's wrong-way collision on Interstate 275.

The dead were Jobin Joy Kuriakose, 21, of Orlando, Ankeet Harshad Patel, 22, of Melbourne, Imtiyaz Ilias, 20, of Fort Myers, and Dammie Yesudas, 21, of Melbourne. All were members of Sigma Beta Rho, a USF fraternity dedicated to multiculturalism.

Ghan Ilias, older brother of Imtiyaz “Jim” Ilias, told reporters before the service that his brother “was always a good person, had a great smile on his face, always had a positive outlook on life. He was a loyal, hard-working, dedicated person. He's gone but he's never forgotten.”

Later, in front of the crowd, grief overcame Ghan Ilias, and he was unable to deliver his remarks. His heart-wrenching sobs, picked up by the microphones, floated over the campus.

He was comforted by fraternity brothers and other family members and escorted from the podium.

Rumi Rahman, cousin of Imtiyaz Ilias, stood in for the family, reading Ghan's message.

“This event is beyond our comprehension. But U strongly believe these beautiful young men had higher purposes, higher than all of us,” he said.

Jeremy Yasudas, brother of Dammie Yesudas, kicked off his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with a brief, “I miss you, bro.”

Before the ceremony, Jeremy Yasudas described how difficult it was to return to USF, where he also studied.

“I felt nauseous coming back to this campus, because I could still see pictures in my head of him riding his bike down that path,” he said. “It's bizarre.”

He said his brother was “smart, funny -- the life of the party.”

Krupa Patel, sister of the man she called “Ank,” recounted their last conversation, during which she felt an overwhelming urge to tell her brother she loved him -- but didn't.

“Please, tell the people you love that you love them. Because you never know when you'll say it again,” she said through tears.

The family of Jobin Kuriakose was occupied with family services in Orlando, so friend, fraternity brother and roommate Allan Babu memorialized him on Thursday.

He joked about Kuriakose's dance moves and his penchant for romantic Hindi songs.

“If you close your eyes and look back, I bet the last time you saw Jobin he was smiling,” Babu said. “He had an infectious smile and laugh, great style, wit and generosity like no other.”

Thursday's service was led by Michael Freeman, a USF assistant vice president and dean for students. Mohsin Hussain, the national president of Sigma Beta Rho spoke, and there was poetry and a fraternity ritual.

Addressing family members, USF President Judy Genshaft said, “Our deepest, deepest sympathies as well as our thoughts and prayers have been with you this entire week.

“In the unfathomable grief and pain that I know you must feel, I can only hope that you have felt the love and the tremendous outpouring of support that has come from the entire USF community.”

Genshaft announced that all four young men would receive their degrees posthumously at this spring's commencement ceremonies.

“They were a part of the family of the University of South Florida, and they will always remain a part of the University of South Florida community forever,” Genshaft said.

All four of the students were in a 2010 Hyundai Sonata that was struck head-on by Daniel Lee Morris, 28, who was speeding while driving southbound in the northbound lanes of I-275 early Sunday. Morris was also killed.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers are still trying to determine how Morris, who had taken a friend's SUV, got onto the interstate in the wrong direction. Friends said Morris had been at a party that stretched from Saturday into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

A fund to benefit the families of the students has also been set up, with individual donations ranging from $5 to $500. As of Thursday, more than 2,200 donations had totaled more than $76,000.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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