CARBONDALE — An official explanation of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and death of an SIU student last year likely is on the way, just as his family and friends prepare to commemorate the somber one-year anniversary of his passing.
In a letter sent last week, Jackson County Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Brenner tells the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau that local authorities are preparing a statement regarding the death of 19-year-old Pravin Varughese in February 2014.
The letter, obtained by the Times, is part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act dispute between Charles Stegmeyer, the attorney representing Varughese’s family in a civil lawsuit, and Jackson County State’s Attorney Mike Carr.
“This is a highly public case pertaining to an unfortunate death of a young SIU student,” the letter reads. “There continues to be a law enforcement investigation … The family has made numerous public statements offering various other persons and theories that may shed light on the loss of their son. Each one of those, my office has taken seriously and pushed for additional investigation.
“My office has spent the past several weeks preparing a written statement which we believe will satisfy the requestor, the family and the public in this tragic case.”
When contacted last week by the Times, Carr declined to discuss any aspect of the Varughese case.
At the same time, Varughese’s family is planning a press conference and memorial event for 11:30 a.m. Friday — the one-year anniversary of Varughese’s death — at the V.F.W. in Murphysboro. State Rep. Terri Bryant is scheduled to speak, and the family of Molly Young also will participate.
Varughese’s mother, Lovely, reflected on the loss of her son Tuesday, which marked a year since she last saw him at her family’s Morton Grove home.
“Today is exactly a year that we saw our Pravin last and said good bye,” Lovely Varughese wrote Tuesday. “We had a good talk and laugh Feb. 9. He was talking about girls and marriage and when daddy asked if he has a girlfriend he said, “No daddy, I am a free single man,” and ran up to his room as usual. Why he decided to stay an extra day? I am sure God planned that extra time.”
Varughese subsequently returned to Carbondale, where he was studying criminal justice at SIU. Days later, he disappeared in an episode still fraught with uncertainty.
Varughese was reported as having last been seen around 11 p.m. Feb. 12 at a house party on West College Street in Carbondale, where he apparently hitched a ride with a new acquaintance, Gaege Bethune. However, a fight reportedly ensued between the two, and police say Varughese abruptly exited the vehicle and fled into a wooded area on Carbondale’s east side. Authorities found his body five days later.
Although local police cited hypothermia as the preliminary cause of death, the Varughese family obtained an independent autopsy from Ben Margolis of the Autopsy Center of Chicago. That second examination cited bruising on Varughese’s head and forearm that Margolis concluded were the results of blunt force trauma.
Last fall, the Varughese family filed a five-count civil lawsuit alleging wrongful death against Bethune, the last person to see Varughese alive, and negligence on the part of Carbondale’s former police chief and the city of Carbondale.
The lawsuit accuses the driver, Bethune, of contributing to Varughese’s death by allegedly hitting him in the head with a blunt force instrument. Much of the lawsuit centers squarely on former Carbondale Police Chief Jody O’Guinn.
Other counts of the lawsuit focus on the city of Carbondale, which the Varughese family contends is liable for the actions of O’Guinn. The suit also alleges the city failed to institute adequate standards for searching for missing persons.
Last month, the Varughese family also added Jackson County Coroner Thomas Kupferer to the lawsuit, alleging he committed a "willful and wanton breach of duty" by failing to "make a complete and accurate autopsy."
No one has been charged criminally in Varughese’s death.