Friends Recall Bus Crash Victim
COLUMBIA - Friends said Aditi Avhad was a very driven individual who also kept her family as a main priority in life. Her friend, Dibya Panigrahi, said during the summer, Avhad Skyped with her family in India every day despite her busy schedule and the time differences.
Friends said the 25-year-old was ecstatic to get to spend an entire month with her folks. The bus trip was to pick them up from Chicago, bring them back to Columbia, and show them around. She had everything all figured out for her parents first visit to the United States--the to-dos, to-eats and to-gos. But everything came to a screeching end when her bus crashed into a highway concrete pillar near Litchfield, Ill., killing her and injuring her parents. Of the 81 passengers on the bus; 48 were injured. Avhad was the only one who perished in the accident.
Both her parents were injured, but her father recovered shortly thereafter and brought Avhad's body back to India on Aug. 2. Her mother had a hip dislocation, a leg fracture, and multiple rib fractures and was advised not to travel for eight weeks. She could not attend Avhad's funeral in India on Aug. 9.
On the day of the accident, Avhad spoke to three of her friends on the phone, including Dibya Panigrahi. The pair spoke three hours before the accident. Avhad told Panigrahi that she wanted to get her driver's license as soon as she got back because she wanted to rent a car and drive her parents around.
Panigrahi found out about Avhad's death through a friend. He didn't want to believe what he heard. Panigrahi said he Googled Avhad's name with hopes that nothing would show up. But when he saw it all over the Associated Press, he said tears just started trickling down his face.
Speaking now with an emotionless expression, Panigrahi said he was devastated. "I will always remember the three to four minutes that I've talked to her on the phone that morning for the rest of my life," Panigrahi said.
"I cannot forget her. She has created a void in our hearts that will never be filled."
Avhad had studied as a dental surgeon at the Nair Hospital and Dental College in Mumbai, India, graduating in 2009. She worked in two dentistry positions before she moved to MU for her masters in health administration. She was awarded a scholarship through the MU School of Medicine and maintained a 4.0 grade point average.
This summer, she undertook an administrative internship with the Center for Health Care Quality at MU as part of her graduate program. Douglas Wakefield, the center's director and a professor of health management and informatics, recognized Avhad as the person that you'd like to have on your team.
"She did very well, was an excellent team member. She was very hardworking, and she'll be greatly missed," said Wakefield. He also said the center had offered Avhad a graduate assistantship for the fall.
Her friend, Nishant Jaint, attributed Avhad's success in her work to her ability to stay focused.
"She always knew what she wanted." said Jaint. He chuckled when he remembered how he and his friend had to drag Avhad out on New Year's Eve. He laughed a little more when he said Avhad was very "conservative" about her time.
Friends said Avhad loved eating and cooking. Justin Okenye said he was a big fan of Avhad's food.
"She was a fine cook. She would invite me over for Nasi Briyani... It was really spicy the first time I had it," said Okenye, with a smile on his face as he recalled the day where he felt as though his tongue was on fire.
Okenye shifted to a more somber expression as he coped with the demise of his neighbor and good friend.
"We all love Aditi. Where she is now, she is watching over us and wonder why we are grieving. It's not easy to be able to say why such a young lady at 25 who has achieved so much in her life, and have so much to achieve in life, would be taken away from her prime time. That is for me, really, is a tragedy."
Piyush Khopkar, an electrical engineering student at MU, was Avhad's first friend when they both came to Mizzou last year.
"I arrived on August 9, and she on August 10. We had our first Walmart trip together," Khopkar said.
Khopkar is currently doing his internship at MU's Campus Facilities, located across from the University Hospital where Avhad was interning over the summer. The duo would usually pack their lunches from home and have lunch together at the University Hospital cafeteria.
There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye when Khopkar shared how they would compete to see who gets first to the microwave in the cafeteria. He said he was always the first.
"I'll miss having lunches with her. I'll miss the way she teases me."
Another friend, Alice Raphael Karikachery, said Avhad will always be remembered for her big smile and shuddered at the thought of how unpredictable life is.
"When we heard the news of her accident, it was just shocking.. The first thing that hits you is how fragile life," said Karikachery. "Her passing away has been a great loss for her family and close friends. She was a good human being, she will be missed a lot."