After an initial autopsy conducted by the Jackson County Coroner’s office in Feburary 2014, hypothermia was ruled as the preliminary cause of death of Southern Illinois University Student Pravin Varughese, age 19. Carbondale Police Chief Jody O’Guinn also told reporters at a February 18 press conference that Varughese likely had trouble finding his way out of the woods because of the “difficult terrain and low temperatures.”
Recent findings by independent forensic pathologist Ben Margolis, founder of Autopsy Center of Chicago, report multiple “significant injuries” to Varughese’s face. According to Margolis, the SIU student, Pravin Varughese, suffered four different blows to the face and head, which in aggregate could not have been caused by a single impact, such as falling on a rock or hitting a tree.
Margolis also reported that Varughese’s body showed an injury to his forearm and his left thigh, bruises below his knees and scratch marks that could have been caused by the difficult terrain.
Jackson County coroner Thomas Kupferer said Saturday, May 31, 2014 that the forensic pathologist who performed the initial autopsy did not indicate any blunt force injuries. According to Chicago Tribune reporter, Jonathan Bullington, Carbondale Police Chief Jody O’Guinn did not return multiple requests for comment, and Jackson County State’s Attorney Michael Carr – whose office is reviewing the case – also declined requests for comment on Saturday.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) June 1, 2014
Varughese’s body was discovered about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, February 18, 2014 in a heavily wooded area on the eastern side of Carbondale. Varughese had been reported missing five days earlier by relatives from Morton Grove, Illinois. He was reported last seen around 11 p.m. February 12, 2014 while leaving a party about three miles from the wooded location where his body was discovered. In a press conference, Chief Jody O’Guinn confirmed Varughese’s body was found in a wooded area east of the 1400 block of East Main Street near Buffalo Wild Wings around 9:45 a.m. Police were searching the area after “the acquaintance” of Varughese’s voluntarily came forward with new information late Monday night — about five days after Pravin Varughese went missing.
Varughese was wearing jeans and a shirt on the night temperatures almost hit zero. The graduate of Niles West High School, who was a track and cross country runner, was reported by Carbondale Police Chief Jody O’Guinn to have fled into the wooded area after getting into a dispute with a “recent acquaintance.” Carbondale police described that the “acquaintance” gave him a ride from the party, but after the dispute, Varughese ran into the woods. O’Guinn said that Varughese apparently met the “recent acquaintance” at a party earlier in the evening and had accepted a ride from the person.
PRAVIN’S LAST TWEET, BUT DID HE TYPE IT…
Bloody knuckles… guesss i was in a fight #backdown
— Pravin Varughese (@TheOnlyPravin) February 13, 2014
Charles Stegmeyer, the Varughese family’s attorney, indicated his suspicion of the “acquaintance” who the Carbondale Times identified as Gaege Bethune.
The Nine-Minute Encounter with Illinois State Police Trooper
According to an Illinois State Police incident report, obtained by Carbondale Times through the Freedom of Information Act in April 2014, there was a brief encounter initiated by an unidentified state trooper at 12:33 a.m. February 13, 2014. The trooper reported that on Route 13, just east of Giant City Road, he encountered a dark-colored pickup parked on the south shoulder with the hazard lights activated. After stopping behind the truck, the trooper observed a male outside the truck on the passenger side. The trooper told the driver to get back into his vehicle.
“I approached the driver and asked if everything was OK,” the trooper reported. “The driver stated he was OK and I asked for identification. The driver handed me his Illinois driver’s license which identified him as Gaege Bethune.”
Bethune’s statement in the Illinois State Police incident report conflicts with the Carbondale police version of the story which said that “the acquaintance” gave Varughese a ride from a party.
The Illinois State Police report submitted reported that “Bethune stated he was headed home when he observed a black male walking eastbound on Route 13. Bethune asked if the pedestrian needed a ride and the pedestrian said yes. When the pedestrian got in the truck, Bethune stated he showed the pedestrian his wallet with some cash in it and stated ‘I can take you anywhere, however; I need some money for gas.’ Bethune stated the passenger punched him in the face, jumped out of the truck and ran south into the woods. Bethune stated he ran after the pedestrian but was not able to locate him.”
The Illinois State Trooper reported he checked the tree line of the woods, but didn’t see anything.
Family attorney Charles Stegmeyer also questioned why an Illinois State Police trooper, who discovered Bethune’s truck parked on the shoulder of Route 13, along with the Carbondale police didn’t do a more extensive search of the woods.
In a Carbondale Times article dated May 8, 2014, Varughese’s mother, Lovely Varughese, says she first spoke to local media about the disappearance of her son three days after he was reported missing and was told by officials with the Carbondale Police Department and SIU Department of Public Safety the very next day that she should refrain from speaking to the media again because it could affect the investigation.
“Then they told us that we should coordinate with the college media rep to find out what we should tell the media,” Lovely Varughese said in a written message to the Carbondale Times. “They said they were calling a press conference on Tuesday the 18th at 2 p.m. and wanted us to be there and said someone from college will contact us regarding media.
“In the evening [the dean of students] came to the hotel with a format and told us what we should tell the media that we should thank the college, the police department, then the mother’s plea and said the family should stand behind in support. On the 18th after they found Pravin, we said we don’t want to come for any press conference.”
Rae Goldsmith, the university’s chief marketing and communications officer, told the Carbondale Time, “We offered to help them through what happens at a press conference … nothing more.”
According to RadioReference.com, the Carbondale police law dispatch channel has voice inversion available, which is a less secure version of the latest encrypted police radio methods. It is not known if voice inversion was used during the response and investigation of the case of Pravin Varughese.
Carbondale Times Report: Driver said Varughese punched him
Carbondale Times Family says SIU tried to control Varughese media coverage
Daily Egyptian Body of missing student found
Chicago Tribune New autopsy casts doubts on SIU student’s death