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O'Guinn: Varughese toxicology was not clean

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Geoffrey Ritter
Weekend Times

CARBONDALE — New questions are surfacing about how SIU student Pravin Varughese died after Carbondale’s police chief said Monday that reports of the 19-year-old having no substances in his system are “not accurate.”

Addressing questions posed at Monday’s meeting of the Human Relations Commission, Police Chief Jody O’Guinn said recent reports from the Times and other local media concerning the results of Varughese’s toxicology are “another falsity that not everybody understands.” 

“That is not true,” O’Guinn said of reports that toxicology showed no alcohol or drugs in Varughese’s system. “What is being reported is being reported from what the family says.”

When contacted Tuesday for clarification, O’Guinn said he was compelled to speak Monday because the widespread reports of the SIU sophomore’s system being entirely clear of alcohol are not true. O’Guinn declined to go into detail, adding that he has been asked by State’s Attorney Mike Carr not to do so. The Times was not successful Tuesday afternoon in contacting Carr, whose office now has the Varughese case.

Varughese’s mother, Lovely Varughese, was shocked to learn of O’Guinn’s comments and said they are not consistent with what she has been told by both Carbondale Police and the Jackson County coroner.

“What do we believe?” she asked. 

Lovely Varughese was the source for stories in the Times and other media last week that reported her son’s toxicology report had come back clear.

Published in print April 5, 2014: 

More details are surfacing about the final moments anyone saw SIU student Pravin Varughese alive, and more is expected in the days ahead about how the 19-year-old met his mysterious end.

While officials haven't publicly released an official toxicology report for Varughese, his mother says Carbondale Police notified her last week that results showed no drugs or alcohol in his system — a revelation that adds more uncertainty to his Feb. 12 disappearance near a wooded area on Carbondale's east side. Police found his body Feb. 18, and initial autopsy results concluded he died of hypothermia.

Now, Carbondale Police are in the final stages of their investigation into how the SIU sophomore studying criminal justice met his end in those woods, and a copy of the toxicology results was made available this week for Jackson County State's Attorney Mike Carr to review. 

Carbondale Police say they are at work on assembling responses to multiple requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act they have received this week. Deputy Chief Jeff Grubbs said the department is working diligently to try to make as much information available as possible. Grubbs said the process is not expected to take long.

“We realize there's a high level of public interest,” Grubbs said.

Meanwhile, Illinois State Police dashboard camera footage first obtained this week by WSIL-TV provides a closer look at the scene of Varughese's disappearance. Monique Bond, chief of communications for ISP, said in a previous statement that a District 13 trooper came upon a vehicle stopped on the south shoulder of Route 13 around 12:10 a.m. Feb. 13 — a little more than an hour after Varughese was last seen at a party on West College Street.

On the shoulder of the road, the vehicle's driver reportedly described to the trooper “an altercation with a passenger, who left the scene. The trooper conducted an extensive search of the area and no suspect was located. The driver declined to file a police report and the trooper cleared the scene,” Bond said.

Bond also said the driver, who had just met Varughese that evening, told the trooper that Varughese had allegedly assaulted and attempted to rob him before fleeing the vehicle into the nearby woods. The camera footage shows the driver walking up from off of the road. It also shows the trooper shine his flashlight into the woods in a brief attempt to find the disappeared passenger.

No report was filed about the encounter, and Carbondale Police received a missing person report about Varughese later that day. They found his body in the woods five days later after receiving a tip from the driver. Carbondale Police Chief Jody O'Guinn said at a press conference the day the body was found that foul play was not suspected.

Varughese's mother, Lovely Varughese, said her family is relieved to learn her son had no drugs in her system, but she finds it difficult to believe that the 19-year-old former cross country runner simply ran into the woods and died of hypothermia. Temperatures the night of the disappearance were well below freezing, and Varughese reportedly was not wearing a coat.

Lovely Varughese said she hopes current police efforts will result in a full and thorough investigation of what happened.

“They still have time,” she said. “The case is still open. This is a real wake-up call for everybody.”

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