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Families of USF Students Apparently Killed in California Crash Still Waiting for Recovery of Bodies

Fresno County Sheriff's Office
The bodies of USF students, Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit (left) and Bhakapon Chairattanasongporn are belived to still be in a vehicle stuck in the King River, near Fresno, CA.

Almost a month after a pair of University of South Florida students traveling in California apparently died in a car accident, their bodies still have yet to be recovered.

Bhakapon Chairattanasongporn, 28, and Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit, 24, are believed to have died when their car crashed July 26 on a freeway east of Fresno in the steep Sierra Nevada mountains.

But high, rough waters have hampered any attempts to recover the couple, whose vehicle plunged off a 500 foot tall cliff, coming to rest in the middle of the King River.

Tanee Sangrat is the Consul General for Thailand in Los Angeles. He says the water is going down, albeit slowly.

"We can imagine that if the current goes down about ten cubic feet per day or so, we will not have a recovery in the next eight or ten days," Sangrat said Tuesday.

Four members of the students' families traveled from Thailand to California shortly after the crash to be closer to the recovery effort.

"It's very, very difficult to understand the wait," Sangrat said. "The families, as well as myself, we've been talking to the authorities, asking them the details, and it's the most agonizing wait for the families."

Saengsuriyarit's mother and one of her sisters returned to Thailand Tuesday, another sister and Chairattanasongporn's mother remain in California.

Sangrat added that the large Thai-American community in the Los Angeles and Fresno areas have mixed feelings about the delay in recovering the bodies. A protest in L.A. had been discussed, but never held.

"One group seems to understand the approach the authorities are taking," Sangrat said. "But a large part of the community would like to expedite the recovery as soon as possible."

A group of Thai-Americans from Los Angeles recently went to Fresno to receive a briefing from representatives from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, as well as offer them moral support.

"They also went up to the site (of the accident) to make merit, according to Buddhist rites, and offered (the victims') souls some peace, according to our tradition and culture," Sangrat said.

Similar, private services honoring the students were held in Tampa this past weekend. A representative of USF International Admissions was in attendance.

USF officials say both were registered for classes this fall, with Chairattanasongporn pursuing a masters' in industrial engineering, while Saengsuriyarit was classified as a non-degree seeking student.

Officials with the USF College of Engineering have indicated that the school, the international student entry group USF INTO, and the USF Thai Student Association will hold a service to honor the students will be held once the bodies are recovered and positively identified.

During the effort to recover the bodies and the car, Fresno County Sheriff's officers found evidence another vehicle may have crashed near the initial scene. 

Pieces of a white car owned by a San Diego couple, Yinan Wang, 31, and his wife, Jie Song, 30, were found about 40 yards downstream from the vehicle Saengsuriyarit and Chairattanasongporn are believed to be inside. The couple were last seen August 6, but did not return to San Diego as expected.

Sheriff's officials say it appears the two accidents appear to be coincidental, as the road in the area is very winding above one of the largest canyons in the country.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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