ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
ROLLA, Mo. (AP) - The four graduate students shared a passion for cricket, incessant curiosity about their new country and most of all, a work ethic that paid little heed to such things as summer breaks and school holidays.
Sri Harsha Chitturi, Srikanth Ravi, Dheeraj Gudlawar and Srupen Reddy Velumula - four Missouri University of Science and Technology graduate students and roommates from India who died in a May 8 car crash - stood out even among the overachievers typically found in the engineering labs and computer kiosks at the 7,200-student school on the edge of the Ozarks, friends and family members recalled at a Monday memorial service.
"These four young men were exceptional individuals," Chancellor John Carney said. "They were dedicated and intelligent students. Their deaths are a tremendous loss their families, their country and our university."
The students were on a shopping trip to Lake of the Ozarks when 22-year-old Murali Bottu lost control of the car he was driving on Missouri State Highway 42, crossed the center line and collided with a pickup truck. Bottu survived the wreck but remains hospitalized. He and Chitturi, who sat in the front passenger seat, were wearing seatbelts. The other three students were not.
A passenger in the pickup truck sustained moderate injuries, and the driver refused medical attention, according to the state Highway Patrol.
Two days earlier, two of the students received their master's degrees at graduation. Bottu, who studied electrical engineering, has a job waiting in St. Louis, while Velumula earned his degree in information science and technology and had plans to start working for Monsanto Co. this summer.
The other three crash victims were expected to finish graduate degrees within the next academic year - Chitturi in computer science, Ravi in manufacturing engineering and Gudlawar - who turned 23 the day of his death - in information science and technology.
The memorial service capped an extraordinarily difficult week on campus. On May 12, an ex-convict with an AK-47 assault rifle crashed his car on campus while attempting to elude police in a high-speed chase and public shootout that began 35 miles away at Fort Leonard Wood. No shots were fired on campus, but officials shut down the school down for four hours until the suspected gunman was caught in a massive manhunt south of Rolla.
Nearly one in eight Rolla university students comes from a foreign country, with the 300 Indian students the largest such group. Computer science professor Sriram Chellappan, faculty adviser for the school's Indian student association, said the loss is being felt especially hard. With little outside the university to distract them in rural Rolla, foreign students rely on each other and their professors for academic and social support.
"The amount of potential lost in this tragedy is immense," he said.
Chellappan said the school hopes to add a safe-driving course taught by a state trooper for foreign students. Many arrive in Rolla unprepared for the winding rural highways that surround the school, a decided contrast to the traffic-choked roads back home, where speeds rarely exceed 30 mph.
All four victims came from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Both Ravi, 21, and Gudlawar, 23, were from the city of Hyderabad.
Chitturi, 22, was from Visakhapatnam, while Velumula, 24, lived in Karimnagar. The two attended the same university in India before coming to Missouri.