Why did Pravin Varughese not use SIU’s ‘Steer Clear’ designated driver program that fateful Wednesday night?

February 19, 2014  

A lesson to be learned from this tragedy, even as questions linger.

By Deepak Chitnis

Deepak ChitnisWASHINGTON, DC: The search for Pravin Varughese came to a tragic end when the 19 year-old Southern Illinois University sophomore’s body was found in a wooded area less than three miles away from his college’s campus, on Tuesday. But several questions still linger with regards to the circumstances regarding Varughese’s untimely demise, and a troubling but necessary discussion has to take place about the simple fact that this whole incident could have, and should have, been preventable.

Social media has seen an outpouring of support for Varughese, with several #RIPPravin hashtags appearing on Twitter. SIU tweeted that they are “deeply saddened to share the news of [his] passing,” and Facebook statuses have popped up across the country to offer condolences for Varughese’s death last week.

RELATED STORY: SIU student Pravin Varughese found dead after missing for six days

Not much is known about exactly what happened on the night of Wednesday, February 12, when Varughese went missing. What is known is that he was at a party on West College Street in Carbondale, Illinois, not far from the SIU campus, and was last spotted there around 11:00 PM. He then tweeted at 11:06 PM and 11:17 PM, saying “99% of the time I have no idea whats [sic] going on” and “Bloody knuckles…guess I was in a fight #backdown,” respectively.

Because this was a college party, it’s fair to assume alcohol was present, although it’s difficult to surmise if Varughese had any and, if so, how much. Although police have indicated that alcohol could have played a part in Varughese’s death, it should be noted that his tweets are reasonably well-written – anyone who’s gotten a truly drunk text message knows what they look like, and these tweets don’t fit that profile.

The last known communication Varughese had with the outside world was with a friend, as yet unidentified, who said Varughese called him around 12:30 AM Thursdaymorning sounding out of breath, and indicated that he may have possibly been in some kind of fight. That would match up with what the tweet from just over an hour ago said, but Varughese’s sister Priya, who eventually reported him missing that same day, later said he could just as easily have fallen or run into some glass to cause the bloody knuckles.

RELATED STORY: Pravin Varughese went to a party, got into a fight, disappeared: now $15,000 reward to find him

Tuesday’s press conference with Carbondale police indicated that Varughese’s death was not being considered a homicide, and that Varughese may have wandered too far from his townhouse in a drunken stupor after leaving the party, gotten offered a ride by an unidentified person (who voluntarily came forward to police on Monday and has been cooperative with the investigation), and was dropped off somewhere after supposedly being too drunk to indicate where he lives or should be dropped off.

This is where an ethical question comes into play: if you offer a ride to someone who’s drunk, regardless of if you’re the person’s friend or not, is it not your responsibility to make sure the person gets home safely? If you don’t offer this person a ride, that’s another matter altogether (and, in all fairness, not offering a visibly drunk person a ride in your car after midnight could be considered understandable), but in making the decision to help somebody out, you have to see that through to the end.

Varughese’s body was found in a wooded area behind a shopping center, with preliminary reports indicating he froze to death in the cruel February Illinois weather, and God only knows what could have driven this young man to find solace in the woods rather than call a cab or stay walking on a sidewalk. Did his phone run out of battery? Did he think there was a shortcut back home through the woods? Was he deliberately left in the woods for some reason, which only this person who gave him a ride knows?

And what is SIU’s responsibility here? As a recent college graduate, I remember going through orientation during my first week as a freshman, and one of the first things my orientation aides made me do was program my college’s “Steer Clear” program’s number into my cell phone.

Steer Clear is essentially a campus-wide designated driver, and exists for the sole reason of driving people who can’t drive themselves. A quick Google search shows that SIU has a “Night Safety Transit” program, but that it closes at midnight on Wednesdays (on Thursday through Saturday nights, which are traditionally when the most drinking occurs on college campuses, they operate until 3:00 AM). So Pravin could have called them right after he left the party between 11:00 PM and 11:45 PM (they stop accepting calls 15 minutes before closing), but for some reason, he chose not to.

I don’t mean to use Varughese’s tragic death to point fingers at people. At the end of the day, a young man’s life was cut short, and that is an unacceptable tragedy. I can only imagine what his family and friends, not to mention the SIU and Carbondale communities, must be going through.

But as a 23 year-old Indian American who went to college in the US, I want to shed as much light as I can on this to prevent it from happening in the future. I’ve been to those Wednesday night parties, I know people who have been too drunk to find their way home. And, thankfully, they’ve always found their way back. What happened to Varughese can be prevented, and hopefully will be for the future.

Was Varughese with friends that night, or did he come to and leave the party on his own? Was he not trying to go home at all, but meet up with other friends at another party and got lost on the way? Did he really get into a fight, and did that altercation somehow lead to his eventual fate? Or perhaps all this speculation is missing, and there was something deeper inside Varughese that no one, least of all myself, could have known about?

R.I.P. Pravin Varughese. Hopefully your passing will be a cautionary tale to others, and your death will not have been in vain. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

(Deepak Chitnis is a Staff Writer at The American Bazaar.)

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

  • Bill

    Well written. Thank you!

  • Juan Yacoub

    How about you do a ‘quick google search’ on how to let the dead rest in peace and not allowing their families to ruminate wild conjectures.

    If you don’t know what happened i suggest you stay clear.

  • Jessin

    Well written one. Our community need initiative like this.

  • j philip

    I agree with Juan… Stick to facts and ‘steer clear’ of assumptions… Like any half decent reporter would do.

  • Use Some Common Sense

    Mr. Chitnis,

    Without knowing the final results of the police investigation, I think you should probably keep your mouth shut. You’re not doing a service to the family or the SIU community with your comments and ridiculous questions.

    Let the police do their job and when the investigation is complete, feel free to comment.

    Thank you.

  • Thomas P

    I do not think Pravin’s death had anything to do with the “weather” or the “terrain”. Its not like he was in the amazon forest to get lost.Did Pravin wear a jacket to the party?If he did where was his jacket? Did Pravin have his phone with him? If he was lost and helpless in that forest wouldn’t he call for help? I think any 19 year old individual would know what to do in that situation.Pravin was very well capable of tweeting twice that night so that clearly shows he was in his senses.There is clear evidence that he got into a fight and plus if that guy’s(male acquaintance) hands were clean why didn’t he come forward earlier? Pravin was no ant or some animal, he was a living human being breathing just like anyone of us and now he is no more. I do not think Pravin’s family and friends should rest this case until they reach the bottom of what really happened to Pravin.I do not know Pravin personally but I am willing to help his family in whatever way possible to get to the bottom of this. I really hope and pray Pravin Varughese gets justice!

  • Thushar

    My friend has an iphone which goes dead when exposed to cold. I don’t know what kind of phone Pravin used, wheather other phones have similar problems or what kind of low temperature Carbondale was dealing with on the fatal day. Anybody knows if his phone was retrieved? There must be some reason for him not calling anybody in his last moments.

  • John Jacob

    Deepak,
    As well written an article that can be. You dealt with the sensitive matter very delicately.
    Forest, give me a break. Five minutes of running through it in any direction would get one out into a open area or street. Where is his phone? The acquaintance waits for 5 days?
    Finding the reasons for Pravins death is not going to make the family’s grief any lesser. But the questions will always linger in their minds, that the story just doesn’t add up. What Pravin did is common among college students, the reasons for his death seem entirely implausible. One has to suspend disbelief and then some to accept the facts as they have been laid out so far. I deeply deeply feel sorry for Pravin’s and the other recent and ongoing untimely deaths of youngsters that is now a daily occurence.

  • concerned

    A very well written report. I think the police is trying to protect someone or some group.A healthy 19 yr old will not or should not die in vain like that. If police dont investigate further,then family should involve private investigators to get to the bottom of this. No life should be taken in vain like this ever again..

  • JJ

    I agree that speculation is not appropriate but sure that stricture applies on both sides. Claiming that the death likely involved foul play or that the authorities are covering up for someone or a group is totally speculation. It is as irresponsible as those who suggest that Pravin was drunk or did not know what he was doing.

    Let the autopsy and toxicology reports come out and then we will know more.

  • sarah

    you’re thinking way too into this! Let the family have some peace and stop making stuff up; its only going to make them feel worst about what happen. And if he was able to text he probably was able to tell someone where he lived in a cohearent manner. Its not a stranger’s job to make sure he walks into his house. I for sure would never pick up a drunk person and if i did… i def would not walk into a house that a drunk person said was theirs. The driver also has to think of his/her safety.

  • JJ

    Thomas P re: “There is clear evidence that he got into a fight and plus if that guy’s(male acquaintance) hands were clean why didn’t he come forward earlier?”

    I don’t know that there is clear evidence that he got into a fight. He implied that he may have done but if someone who was in command of his faculties got into a fight, he’d just say that was the case and therefore his knuckles were bleeding. Also, to accuse the acquaintance of not having “clean hands” is also outrageous. Don’t you think that would be an obvious question he would be asked by the police?

  • JJ

    Results of the autopsy on Pravin V have been made public:

    “The Jackson county coroner says the autopsy of Pravin Varughese shows the cause of death is hypothermia.

    The coroner says the toxicology results are still pending.”

    http://www.kfvs12.com/story/24754251/autopsy-shows-siu-student-died-from-hypothermia

  • someone who actually went to search for him

    Take this dumbass shit down…instead of askin questions and speculating u should have helped search

  • AJA

    Firstly, this article was terribly written. You said you graduated college, but it this article contains NUMEROUS grammatical and structural flaws.

    Secondly, this article is tasteless. You initially say that it’s unknown whether Pravin drank or not that night, but then for the remainder of the article you just assume he was drunk. Additionally, you show no emotion towards the tragedy, yet try to relate? Hopefully his death will be a warning to others? You might as well tell a girl who gets raped that it was her fault for wearing a scandalous dress. This was a tragedy plain and simple; you don’t need to analyze it, especially not with unproven assumptions.

  • JJ

    Deepak Chitnis, as you get attacked let me just say that your article is balanced and appropriately sensitive. Sure it speculates on what may have transpired but I don’t feel that you are in any way making unfair charges against Pravin V.

    I can only assume that some of those who are attacking you are people who knew Pravin and their raw emotions are coming to the fore. I think it is those raw emotions that explain not only the attacks on you but also the speculation as to what role the person who gave Pravin a ride had in his death. I think that absent any evidence of his culpability it is downright unfair to make allegations against this individual.

    There are still questions regarding how Pravin came to the fate that he did. The toxicology report may shed light on his condition. Certainly, if he ended up disabled for any reason after he was dropped off and headed into the woods, the extreme cold that night could have been responsible for his death.

    Pravin’s death is a tragedy but a certain amount of restraint would be appropriate until all the facts are known..

  • Julie

    This article is well written. TO Juan Yacoub a reporter writes about thing that are being investigated. None of the other articles wrote about the driver in the car and the driver talking to police. I don’t know if the person who gave him a ride was a friend, acquaintance, classmate, etc. It was good point to write about the responsible of a person driving someone home. When I was in college I didn’t drink but had a car. I would drive ppl to the party (then go home) I would tell them to make sure they had enough money to get home because I didn’t want the responsibility of a drunk person or them puking in my car. I am also aware that the Doctor autopsy did not announce his blood alcohol level. That always seemed Strange to me.

  • PJ

    Pravin was found passed away in the woods and no one still knows what exactly happened. The Carbondale police say that there was no foul play, but his toxicology report showed that he did not have any drugs or alcohol in his system. His family asks that you sign the following petition. It takes just a sec and would help reopen the case. Please sign, it would mean the world to Pravin’s family and friends. Thanks!!
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/justice-for-pravin/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=button

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