Witness recalls seeing wrong-way driver before deadly I-275 cras - WFLA News Channel 8

Witness recalls seeing wrong-way driver before deadly I-275 crash

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Friends of four USF students killed by a wrong-way driver held a memorial Sunday evening near the scene of the deady crash on I-275. Friends of four USF students killed by a wrong-way driver held a memorial Sunday evening near the scene of the deady crash on I-275.
Friends of four USF students killed by a wrong-way driver held a memorial Sunday evening near the scene of the deady crash on I-275. Friends of four USF students killed by a wrong-way driver held a memorial Sunday evening near the scene of the deady crash on I-275.
The memorial on Sunday evening caused a traffic delay on I-275. FDOT photo The memorial on Sunday evening caused a traffic delay on I-275. FDOT photo
Investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol arrived on scene just after 2 a.m. Sunday. Investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol arrived on scene just after 2 a.m. Sunday.
Members of the USF fraternity Sigma Beta Rho. Members of the USF fraternity Sigma Beta Rho.
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

At least one witness said he saw the white Ford Expedition going the wrong way on Interstate 275 several miles before it hit a car head-on, killing five people.

"He came up real fast so I darted over and avoided him. I got on the phone and called the cops and let them know what was going on because it was a really dangerous situation. I knew something was going to happen really bad," said witness Ben Warekois. Warekois said the SUV passed him going the wrong way in the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 near State Road 56.

About 12 miles later the SUV crashed into a car carrying four University of South Florida Students.

Friends of the students killed held an impromptu memorial Sunday evening near the scene of the fiery crash on I-275.

Related story: Man convicted of drunk driving in 275 crash warns others.

At least 100 people gathered on the side of I-275 near the Busch Blvd. exit where Jobin Joy Kuriakose age 21, Ankeet Harshad Patel age 22, Imtiyaz "Jim" Ilias age 20, and Dammie Yesudhas age 21 died early Sunday morning. The students were members of USF's chapter of Sigma Beta Rho.

"They’ve become a part of our extended family. When something like this happens, it really hurts us deep inside," said Nabil Tahan, who is a Sigma Beta Rho brother at University of South Florida.

The fraternity posted a fundraiser on its Facebook page and has already raised $50,000 to help pay for the victims' funerals. It also plans to hold a memorial service on the USF campus this Thursday, but the time and location are still being worked out.

Ilias’s brother Ghan Ilias didn't know it'd be the last time he spoke with his little brother when he turned on Facetime and had a chat with him around 3:30 Saturday afternoon. It will be a moment he'll always cherish.

"I did get to say I love you bro," Ghan remembers. "He said ‘I love you too,’ in front of my father, because we face-timed each other."

Ilias' family revealed more about him after the crash. Just a couple years ago, he was captain of his wrestling team at Cypress Lake High School in Ft. Myers.

"Jim was very determined," said Angelo Vaughn, Assistant Wrestling Coach. "He didn't make excuses for anything. He always worked hard. He always pushed his teammates."

Monday students at his old high school had a moment of silence to remember him.

"The hallways were different," said Clay Rogers, a Cypress Lake junior. "People were sad; a lot of kids were quieter. I think it had a big impact on a lot of the students."

A driver saw the Ford Expedition traveling the wrong way on I-275 and recorded the crash with a cell phone. The video was circulated on the internet.

USF President Judy Genshaft released a statement that offered condolences to the families and friends of the victims. She also said the school is planning a memorial service later in the week.

Below is the complete text of Genshaft's statement:

A Message to the Community from USF President Judy Genshaft:

On behalf of the University of South Florida’s students, faculty and staff, I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the three USF students and one former student who lost their lives in an automobile collision on Sunday morning. Mere words cannot convey the depth of shock and sadness this terrible event brings to all who knew and cherished these wonderful young men – Dammie Yesudhas, Imtiyaz “Jim” Ilias, Ankeet Patel and Jobin Kuriakose – who were fraternity brothers in Sigma Beta Rho.

Our hearts are heavy at the loss of such bright, energetic and optimistic young people who had promising futures ahead of them; to have their lives cut tragically short betrays our sense of fairness and security. Now is the time when our faith and the support of those closest to us can sustain us, and should in tribute to their spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

The USF Counseling Center is available to provide services and resources to students who are struggling with the loss of friends and classmates. I encourage anyone who is in despair or simply feels the need to talk to reach out to the counseling center at (813) 974-2831 for either individual or group counseling. Assistance is available 24-hours a day and on weekends. For faculty and staff who have been touched by this tragedy, the Employee Assistance Program stands ready to help at 1-800-327-8705.

The USF chapter of Sigma Beta Rho will be planning an on-campus memorial service for later in the week and we will make that information available at www.usf.edu for all those who would like to attend. Please keep the families and friends of Dammie, Jim, Ankeet and Jobin in your thoughts in this difficult time.

Stay with WFLA.com for updates on this story. *WINK-TV and WBBH-TV contributed to this report

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