There are thousands of UCSB students on campus today attending their first day of classes, but there are five that will not be returning to school this year.
This summer claimed the lives of five UCSB students: David De A’Morelli, a 26-year-old environmental studies major; Robin Babbini, a 20-year-old English major; Ove Storset, a 36-year-old mechanical engineering graduate student; Navin Parthasarathy, a 28-year-old electrical and computer engineering graduate student; and Alexander Baer, a 25-year-old psychology major.
De A’Morelli was found stabbed to death on June 24 in the Devonshire area of Los Angeles. Babbini died on June 30 in her bed surrounded by family; she had been battling ovarian cancer since the age of 17. Storset had been on leave from UCSB since the spring of 2005 and was working on his dissertation in Norway when he died from unknown health problems on Aug. 2.
On Aug. 4, Parthasarathy’s body was found in a river in Ithaca, New York where he was attending a conference. Baer died on Highway 154 on Aug. 6 as a passenger in a suspected drunk-driving incident.
De A’Morelli transferred to UCSB in January from Pierce College. His mother Kitty Freeman said it was his dream to go to UCSB and complete an internship in the Amazon next summer.
Longtime friend Chris Stern said De A’Morelli had a “willpower of steel.” Stern said that a few years after graduating from high school, De A’Morelli decided to turn his life around, stopped smoking cigarettes, stopped partying and got through school at Pierce with straight A’s.
“This kid could do it all,” Stern said. “He was super-focused, took on hard odds and made it his own. That makes his loss all the more heartbreaking.”
De A’Morelli was visiting friends and his mother in Los Angeles before beginning summer session classes at UCSB. A motorist found him staggering up Lindley Avenue, a high-density residential area, shortly after midnight on June 24 with stab wounds in his chest. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
His laptop, which went missing during the incident, is still missing, although Freeman said police have it on a tracking list.
Lawrence Davila, a 21-year-old from Reseda, was arrested for the crime and pled not guilty in August on grounds of self-defense.
Babbini was an active member of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Last year, she was a participant in UCSB’s Relay For Life, a 24-hour walkathon benefiting the American Cancer Society. This year, she was co-chair of the event, and because she was sick during the planning, Babbini helped out from her bed at home in Los Angeles by discussing the plans over the phone with co-chair and friend Brittany Enos, a third-year communication major.
The event raised over $35,000 from donations and registration fees.
Her father, Ronald Babbini, said she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a type of cancer that is very rare among young women, as a senior in high school when she was student body president, homecoming queen and co-chief cheerleader.
After undergoing chemotherapy, Babbini was in remission until Winter Quarter of her freshman year at UCSB. Babbini went on and off of treatment thereafter, and became bedridden in October of 2005, but still completed eight units in Winter 2006 from her bed.
Enos said Babbini wanted first and foremost to have a normal life as a student, and did not like to publicize her ongoing fight against ovarian cancer.
“She didn’t tell anyone at first,” Enos said. “She didn’t want to let it come before the person she was. She fought to the very end.”
Her father said her ambition in life was to be the editor of a fashion magazine. She was buried on July 3 at the Mt. Sinai Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Family and friends of Ove Storset were unavailable for comment, but Candace Stevenson, Office of Student Life student and parent liaison, said he went back to his home country of Norway in Spring 2005 and was finishing his dissertation on mechanical engineering. He died from unknown health problems at the age of 36.
Parthasarathy had already completed and defended his thesis on the design and fabrication of high-speed transistors and circuits, and was about one month shy of receiving his Ph.D before he made the trip to the Les Eastman Conference at Cornell, said his faculty advisor, Mark Rodwell, in an e-mail.
Rodwell said he is in the process of finding all the pieces of Parthasarathy’s thesis work so he can submit it for a Ph.D to be awarded posthumously.
The Engineering Dept. set up a memorial fund for Parthasarathy through Santa Barbara Bank & Trust to cover any debts incurred by his parents in India as a result of his death. The remaining money will be used for a memorial and plaque at the site, and a fellowship at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, where he completed his undergraduate work, Rodwell said. His family held a ceremony for him in Channai/Madras, India.
The New York State dive team found Parthasarathy’s body two days after he was believed to have drowned. His body was found in the pool at the base of a small waterfall in the Fall Creek Gorge on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca. The Ithaca Police Dept. said the conditions of the river were dangerous for swimming or wading, as the area had a strong undertow and current.
Friends remembered Parthasarathy and his contributions to the Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. at his Memorial Service on Aug. 29 in the Engineering II Pavilion. Sukhvinder Kaur, an engineering graduate student, said Parthasarathy enjoyed his time at UCSB and the work he did.
“I’ll always remember Navin as someone who was proud of who he was and knew what he wanted,” Kaur said. “He was forthright and sarcastic in a good-humored way. He loved Santa Barbara and would always make jokes about staying longer for his Ph.D to enjoy UCSB a little longer.”
Baer attended UCSB for two quarters after transferring from Santa Barbara City College as a psychology major. His father Roger Baer said he worked with autistic children at the Devereux Center for three years. An avid reader, Baer also began working at the circulation desk of the Davidson Library this summer.
His friend and former girlfriend, UCSB alumna Deanna Gay, set up a tribute fund at the Pacific Autism Center for Education for those who wish to make donations in Baer’s memory on his 26th birthday, Oct. 2.
“He was a caring and compassionate person who sought knowledge and respected educated opinions,” Gay said. “People continually tell me that he was a caring and very sweet and gentle person with the ability to get a chuckle out of everyone with his quirky sense of humor. All who knew him miss this about him, and we are all sad to see that he fell just short of achieving his hard-fought goal of graduating this school year [with a degree] in psychology.”
Paige Reid, girlfriend and UCSB alumna, remembers Baer as a friendly, funny person, willing to talk to anyone, joke around and make friends. She and some of Baer’s friends are working to organize a concert to educate the Santa Barbara community about the dangers of drunk driving.
“All of our lives are changed without him,” Reid said. “He had so many special, quirky qualities that we all love and appreciate about him.”
Baer was killed after he accepted a ride home from a party with 22-year-old UCSB alumna Jessica Binkerd, said Santa Barbara Police Dept. Lt. Paul McCaffrey. On the way home, Binkerd swerved over the double-yellow lines on Highway 154 into oncoming traffic and hit another driver head-on at freeway speed.
McCaffrey said Baer was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the other car was treated for minor injuries. Binkerd was admitted to the hospital and later charged by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office with three felony charges including vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence with injury and a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher said Kendall Jarvis, secretary at the DA’s Office. Binkerd will be arraigned on the charges Friday.