Four University of South Florida students, and another man were killed early Sunday in a fiery head-on Interstate 275 crash caused by a wrong-way driver, authorities said.
On I-275, a 2001 Ford Expedition was traveling south in the northbound lanes just north of Busch Boulevard around 2:12 a.m. The Expedition collided with a northbound Hyundai Sonata in the center lane, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
Officials said Jobin Kuriakose, 21, was driving the Sonata with three other passengers, Ankeet Patel, 22, Imtiyaz Ilias, 20 and Dammie Yesudhas, 21. All four men were part of the University of South Florida fraternity Sigma Beta Rho.
The Expedition burst into flames, burning the driver beyond recognition, troopers said. The Expedition driver, who still has not been identified, and the four USF students, all died at the scene.
Chad Harris witnessed the accident and saw a ball of fire in his rear view mirror.
"I tried to go back and help," said Harris. "But there was nothing I could do at that point."
Crystal Fountain said she dodged the SUV just moments before the crash.
“It was a car going directly at me in the same lane,” said Fountain. “It was going straight, it was going fast, all I could think of was the car was on a death mission.”
Fountain said as soon as she swerved out of the way and the SUV sped by, she looked in the side mirror and knew something terrible was about to happen.
“It’s just so painful and hurt that innocent people lost their lives and we still don’t know why or what the reason is,” she said.
Another witness, Jada Wright took video of the wrong-way driver speeding on the interstate.
"He came from behind me, he passed me," said Wright. "He had to be doing probably 100."
A group of students gathered on I-275 near the crash scene to hold a vigil on Sunday evening around 7 p.m.
SigRho USF posted the following statement on their Facebook page:
"Early this morning four brothers of the Mu Mecca Chapter of Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity Inc. were taken to a better place. Today, the world lost four of the most sincere, joyous, and humble men. Our condolences and prayers go out to the friends and families of these brothers.
Mr. Dammie Yesudhas - Brother Netflix
Mr. Jobin Kuriakose - Brother Ambition
Mr. Imtiyaz Jim Ilias - Brother Rodnac
Mr. Ankeet Patel - Brother Facetious
"Brothers come into our lives, and sadly leave our lives, but Brothers never leave our hearts. SigRho Cobras, SigRho Soldiers, always and forever."
Statement from Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity:
"We are devastated at the loss of our brothers. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families as well as the family of the driver in the other car. This tragic accident has taken the lives of four very talented young men who should have had a lifetime ahead of them. We ask you to respect the privacy of the families and our fraternity during this grieving time. There will be a memorial service held on the University of South Florida campus this Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in the Marshall Student Center area."
Statement from USF President Judy Genshaft:
"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."
Four others killed in local crashes
Authorities also are investigating the two other fatal crashes in Hillsborough County and one in Manatee County.
According to Hillsborough Fire Rescue, two people died around 3:30 a.m. in a single-vehicle crash on Bloomingdale Avenue between S Kings Avenue and John Moore Road in Brandon.
And a motorcycle rider was killed when he ran a red light and slammed into a car on Dale Mabry Highway at Fletcher Avenue, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
In Manatee County, one person died in a single-vehicle crash about 1:30 a.m. at U.S. 301 and 69th St. E., troopers said.
The motorcycle rider was identified as Joel Baxter Cooper, 24, of Tampa. The identities of all of the victims have been withheld pending notification of relatives, the FHP said.