Family's Lawsuit Names Man They Believe Killed SIU Student

Morton Grove family commissioned independent autopsy that determined Pravin Varughese did not die as originally thought

A Morton Grove family filed a civil lawsuit Thursday against a man they believe is responsible for the death of a Southern Illinois University student.

The suit names Gaege Bethune, 22, as well as the Carbondale Police and the city of Carbondale. The lawsuit was filed after the family commissioned an independent autopsy that determined Pravin Varughese, 19, did not die as originally thought.

Police initially said Varughese got lost after a party and froze to death in the woods near Carbondale, but Varughese's family now says they have proof the teen was attacked. The lawsuit accuses Bethune of causing the teen's death.

"Every day is a hard day," Varughese's mother, Lovely, said. "I wake up in the morning, and I think it's all a dream."

Varughese's body was found in February in the woods five days after he left a party near SIU's Carbondale campus. About an hour after he left, dash cam video obtained by NBC 5 shows a state trooper spotting an empty pickup parked on the side of the road nearby.

Bethune is shown in the video walking from the roadside, and the Varughese family accuses him of attacking their son and causing his death.

"He has to tell us the truth," Lovely Varughese said. "We waited six months for him to come out and tell us what really happened."

The family's lawsuit accuses Bethune of giving their son a ride, then hitting him "in the head with a blunt-force instrument."

According to police reports, the trooper who spoke to Bethune that night says he told him he offered a man a ride, but when he asked for gas money, the man punched him and ran into the woods.

The trooper saw a mark on Bethune's face and conducted a brief search with a flashlight, finding no sign of Varughese.

Jimmy Vachachira, an attorney for the Varughese family, says the family's private autopsy shows Varughese was badly beaten and was probably still alive that night.

Vachachira describes Varughese's injuries as "blunt force trauma to the head."

"He also has a defensive wound in his right arm," the attorney said, which shows "he was fighting for his life."

Still the family said authorities told them the official coroner's autopsy found no sign of foul play and that hypothermia appeared to be the cause of death. There was no mention of blunt force trauma.

The initial police theory before the family knew about the state trooper video was that their son had been drinking, got lost in the woods and succumbed to sub-freezing temperatures.

The family said their lawsuit also accuses the city of Carbondale and the chief of police of negligence.

Carbondale Police say they do not comment on pending litigation but also say the case is still under review by the state's attorney's office.

NBC 5 reached out to Bethune but did not hear back. Bethune has not been charged in the case and there is no indication that he is a suspect or currently under investigation.

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