Almost three years ago, a 19-year-old Southern Illinois University student was found dead in the woods near Buffalo Wild Wings, and after an epic battle with officials in Southern Illinois, the family of the deceased is still waiting to hear answers.
Lovely Varughese, the mother of Pravin Varughese, along with other members of the Varughese family, will make the trip from Morton Grove to Carbondale Saturday to visit the site of Pravin’s death.
According to the family, there will be a prayer at the site of death – which happens every year – and at 1 p.m., the family will gather at SIU’s engineering department to announce the first “Pravin Varughese Memorial Scholarship.” Lovely Varughese said the scholarship is for $1,000 and will be given to a criminal justice student.
The student has been selected, and will not be announced until Saturday. The family said it will be an annual scholarship.
“We felt we had to start doing something there,” Lovely said. “I still feel like his soul is there.”
There have been questions about Pravin Varughese’s death since he went missing the night of Feb. 12-13, 2014. He was found five days later in a wooded area off the 1400 block of East Main Street.
Police reported he got a ride on Feb. 12 from a male identified as Gaege Bethune. The two got in a fight, and Varughese got out of the vehicle and ran into the woods where he was later found, police said.
Varughese’s February 2014 autopsy revealed no signs of foul play and said hypothermia was the preliminary cause of death, according to Jackson County Coroner Dr. Thomas Kupferer.
Also in February 2014, it was learned that a state trooper actually came in contact with Bethune shortly after the altercation took place on Feb. 13 at about 12:10 a.m.
The trooper’s report said he spoke to Bethune and was told the driver picked up a pedestrian on Illinois 13. Bethune then told the trooper he asked Varughese for gas money, then he was hit in the face, at which time Varughese got out of the car and ran into the woods.
According to the same report, the trooper searched the tree line on Illinois 13 and asked Bethune if he needed any more assistance. When Bethune declined, the trooper and Bethune left the scene. The trooper’s dash cam showed the two speaking and leaving the scene.
Two months later, the Varughese family had a second autopsy completed, Dr. Ben Margolis of the Autopsy Center of Chicago, which found different results from Jackson County’s. Margolis’ report showed blunt force trauma to the head was the underlying cause of death for Varughese.
In August 2014, the Varughese family – desperate to find answers – took legal action. The family filed a five-count, $5 million wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against Bethune, the city of Carbondale, and then-Carbondale Police Chief Jody O’Guinn. Kupferer was later added to this lawsuit, but was later dismissed by the family, along with the city and O’Guinn.
The civil suit against Bethune still remains as of Friday.
In February 2015, a Jackson County grand jury returned a no-true bill against Bethune for criminal charges. At the time, Jackson County State’s Attorney Michael Carr said from his perspective, the criminal investigation was over. He then released his findings from his investigation into the case
In March 2015, Carr stepped down from the case and turned it over to a special prosecutor in the Illinois State Appellate Court.
The most recent news on this case was the Carbondale city government handing over police records to the Varguhese family in May. The city handing over the reports came after the Varughese family attempted several times to obtain records through the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits, only to be rejected because it was a pending investigation.
In May, Lovely Varguhese said she and her husband were only heading to Carbondale for a conversation with city officials, but when they walked into the meeting, there were all the records available for the family.
At the time, Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said the city wanted to release the records to the family, but had to wait on permission from the appellate court, because of the open investigation and only got the green light to release the documents two and a half hours before meeting with the Varugheses.
After receiving the documents, Lovely Varughese said she wasn’t going to release the documents until the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s office released its report on the case. However, she said a lot of the family’s suspicions were proved right since looking at the police report. She said Wednesday she still couldn’t release too many details because of the pending report.
As of Friday, the report still hasn’t been released. Deputy Director with the State Appellate office David Robinson told the Times Wednesday his office is still investigating the case and it would be inappropriate to make a comment.
On Wednesday, Lovely Varughese told the Times that she’s at ease with who is looking into her son’s case.
“I feel really comfortable that someone with intelligence is looking into it,” she said. “Who is willing to look at it. That was our problem from the beginning.
“I have to wait patiently for them to finish their investigation and come out with whatever report they have. We are at a good place in our heart. We are at peace.”