Men killed in crash were focused on education and professional success, friend says

Three young Fairfax County residents who died in a car crash last weekend near Baltimore were close friends with dreams of returning to India and becoming successful, the roommate who reported them missing said Thursday.

Instead, Vignesh Ashokan, 23, Sharath Sudershanam, 24, and Mallikarjun Moka, 25, will return to their home country as ashes. Bura Santhosh, the roommate, said two of the men’s parents are unable to come to the United States to retrieve their bodies. Even if they could, he said, doctors have told them that the severity of the men’s injuries makes a viewing impossible.

“It is so sad that they can’t even see their sons’ bodies,” Santhosh said. Their parents, he said, had spent heavily to send them to the United States to pursue their education, hoping they would “do something great and settle down in a good position.” They planned to learn software engineering, Santhosh said, and then find work at multinational corporations back home.

Police said the bodies were found Tuesday, two days after the men were last seen. A driver spotted evidence of a crash near the ramp from southbound Interstate 83 to the outer loop of I-695 and alerted authorities.

The three were heading home early Sunday from visiting friends in Cockeysville, Md., with Moka at the wheel, police said, when they ran off the road and into the woods. About 300 feet in, the car struck a tree.

Santhosh said Moka, who graduated from Texas A&M, had bought the 2012 Volvo sedan only a week before the crash. He had been in the United States for the past three years; Sudershanam and Ashokan arrived in January.

The men, who moved here without knowing anyone, lived in a tight-knit seven-person apartment at Circle Towers, a massive building just outside Fairfax City that houses many students. All seven are Telugu, an ethnic minority based in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Two of the young men came from that state; Ashokan was from Chennai, a city in nearby Tamil Nadu. They met at Virginia International University, a business and computer school where Sudershanam and Ashokan were working on master’s degrees. Moka had received his master’s and was working as a contract database developer for the Navy Federal Credit Union.

Michele Townes, a spokeswoman for the credit union, said Moka had done work for it since Feb. 3. She said the company he worked for was called Clearsoft. A manager there on Thursday described him as a “super nice guy, sweet guy. He’s very kind, very considerate, very professional.”

On Facebook, messages for the young men poured in from across India and the United States, in English and Telugu. A college professor in India described Mallikarjun as an intelligent and committed student. “God must want to keep you with Him,” wrote Nilamadhab Panda. “But we miss u.”

News of expatriates is followed closely in India, and the crash was reported on TV9, a Telugu news station in India, the Telugu Times and the New Indian Express. But news in the country was dominated by the national elections that ended Monday. Sudershanam was following the political events and about two weeks ago he posted a message on Facebook supporting the Aam Aadmi Party, which was founded on an anti-corruption platform.

A private cremation will be held Saturday morning in Alexandria, said Mohan Nannapaneni, president of the Telugu Association of North America, who is working with the men’s families. Volunteers for the organization had been searching for the missing friends since Monday after getting calls from concerned relatives. Ashokan’s parents are coming from India to attend. A public wake will be held before the cremation, at George P. Kalas Funeral Home in Oxon Hill, Md.

Theresa Vargas and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

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Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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