Family Pleads for Justice in SIU Student’s Death

Civil lawsuit accuses driver of causing Pravin Varughese's death and Carbondale Police of botching the investigation

In a follow up to the mysterious death of a Southern Illinois University student, NBC 5 Investigates has uncovered mounting evidence that shows the death was no accident.

"I want to see if the cross is here," said Lovely Varughese.

Varughese showed NBC 5 Investigates the place the Carbondale Police took her family nine months ago when they discovered the body of her 19-year-old son, Pravin, last February.

"He didn't need to die here," she said pointing to the woods.

The Carbondale medical examiner's report said that hypothermia was the cause of Pravin's death. The family says Carbondale police told them that Pravin drank too much at a party, hitched a ride with a stranger and then got lost in the woods after an argument.

"Seeing his injuries, there has to be more than that," said Varughese.

Even after Pravin's body was prepared for burial his parents could clearly see the bruise on his forehead. They hired Doctor Ben Margolis, Director of the Autopsy Center of Chicago, to investigate.

Pointing to an autopsy photo of Parvin's forehead, Margolis said "It's a sign of blunt force trauma."

Margolis found three bruises on Pravin's face and what he describes as a deep defensive bruise on his right forearm. A sign Margolis says Pravin might have been fighting for his life.

"That bruise was right down to the bone. This was not an accident," Margolis added.

NBC 5 Investigates retraced Pravin's steps that night he left an off-campus party around 11:30 pm. Friends say he did have some drinks.

"He was fine," said Rachel Elbe, a friend of Pravin's.

Pravin's friends say they were supposed to meet them at a nearby bar but never showed up. The temperature that night was 14 degrees.

"The bar he was supposed to be going to was three blocks away, said Dakota Reynolds, another friend of Pravin's.

At 12:33 p.m., an Illinois State Trooper stopped to investigate an empty pickup truck parked on the shoulder of Illinois Route 13 in Carbondale. The pickup driver approached the officer saying that he'd offered a black man a ride and asked for gas money but the man punched him and ran. The trooper's report notes that he saw a mark on the driver's face and briefly searched the woods with a flashlight but found nothing.

The autopsy report also indicates that Pravin could have survived for hours in the woods. His family does not believe the driver's gas money story. They say their son suffered far more than a mark on his face and accuse the driver of attacking
Pravin with a blunt force instrument.

"There has to be more than just a small fight seeing his injuries. Just tell us what he did," pleaded Lovely.

In a civil lawsuit filed by the family, they accuse the Carbondale Police of botching the investigation and the driver, Gaege Bethune, of causing Pravin's death. Bethune did not respond to NBC 5 Investigates calls. but Carbondale Radio host Monica Zukas, who has been pursuing the case, says she reached Bethune by phone.

"He was scared. His voice was shaky. He said this is the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life," Zukas said.

Five days after Pravin first disappeared, Carbondale police questioned Bethune and connected his stop on the road that night to Pravin. It was only then that Pravin's body was found.

"It goes through my head a million times at night. If I knew he was here I would have just got through here in a heartbeat and found him," Varughese said pointing to the woods.

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