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Family of SIU student who died sues Carbondale

Published: Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 8:45 a.m. CST

CARBONDALE – The family of a 19-year-old Southern Illinois University student found dead near the school in February has filed a lawsuit against the city of Carbondale, its police chief and the person who last saw him alive.

Pravin Varughese's mother, Lovely Varughese of Morton Grove in suburban Chicago, filed the lawsuit in Jackson County on Thursday along with the family's attorney Charles Stegmeyer of Belleville. The lawsuit accuses the city and police chief of negligently handling the case, Stegmeyer said. Lovely Varughese is seeking more than $5 million from all defendants, but said money is not what's important.

"Pravin's smile is worth more than that," she said. "This is the only way we felt we could get the answers we wanted."

Varughese's body was discovered in a wooded area on Feb. 18, nearly a week after he went missing. He was a criminal justice major.

Authorities have said there wasn't evidence of foul play and he likely died of cold exposure. But the family's lawyer says a private autopsy showed blunt force trauma to the head contributed to Varughese's death. Varughese's family also insists lab tests showed no signs of drugs or alcohol in his system. Carbondale Police Chief Jody O'Guinn has called that "not completely accurate."

"We were not looking for any kind of revenge. We were looking for answers." Lovely Varughese said.

City Manager Kevin Baity said he couldn't comment on pending litigation. The case also is under review by the Jackson County State's Attorney's office.

As many as 200 friends, family and church members traveled to Carbondale to search for Varughese after he went missing. His family offered a $15,000 reward and Carbondale police searched for him by air and with dogs.

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