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Family, friends react to 4 S&T students killed in crash

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Relatives were making funeral arrangements from afar Monday for four Indian students from the Missouri University of Science and Technology killed in a weekend wreck while their classmates sat at the hospital bedside of a fifth student who was critically injured.

Friends said the graduate students — two of whom just graduated Friday night from the Rolla school — had gone to the Lake of the Ozarks to shop when the wreck happened Sunday morning on Missouri 42 in Miller County.

“It’s a terrible tragedy,” said university spokesman Andrew Careaga.

The Missouri Highway Patrol said Murali Bottu, 22, lost control of the car he was driving, crossed the center line and became sideways in the highway. That’s when pickup truck heading the other direction collided with the car.

Bottu, of Chittoor, India, was rushed to the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia, where he remained in critical condition Monday, the patrol and a hospital spokeswoman said.

The crash killed all four passengers — Srupen Reddy Velumula, 24, of Karimnlagar, India; Sri Harsha Chitturi, 22, of Visakhapatnam, India; Srikanth Ravi, 21, of Hyderabad, India; and Dheeraj Gudlawar, 23, of Hyderabad, India. Only Bottu and Chitturi were wearing seatbelts.

The patrol said the passenger in the pickup truck sustained moderate injuries, and the driver refused medical attention.

Bottu had just earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering and had a job in St. Louis, while Velumula had just finished a degree in information science and technology and was supposed to start working for Monsanto Co. this summer, said Vishwanath Gandikota, president of the Council of Graduate Students and a friend of the victims. The other three victims were expected to finish graduate degree’s within the next academic year — Chitturi in computer science, Ravi in manufacturing engineering and Gudlawar in information science and technology.

“They had really bright futures,” Gandikota said. He described them as good students, “lively” and “fun to hang out with.”

“It’s a hard blow for all of us,” he said. “It’s kind of a shocking thing. We are still trying to get over the shock.”

Sriram Chellappan, the adviser of the India Association and an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department, said the school of about 7,200 has an Indian population of more than 300 students. He learned early in the day Sunday that several of them had been involved in a deadly wreck, but he didn’t learn the identities of the dead and injured until he received an email later that night.

“When I saw the email, I was hesitating to scroll down because I didn’t want to see the names,” he said. “I didn’t even want to look.”

The news was devastating. He had spoken to Chitturi just Saturday when he called to ask for an extension on a report. During the conversation, Chitturi told Chellappan he wanted to buy some things during the shopping trip before leaving to spend the summer with his family in India.

He said students have gathered at the Columbia hospital to be with Bottu while his family flies to be with him.

“The community here is very supportive,” Chellappan said.

The bodies of the dead are at a funeral home in Osage Beach while the family makes arrangements to have them returned to India. Meanwhile, the university is planning to remember the students.

“The timing is challenging,” Careaga said. “There aren’t a lot of people on campus.”

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