It was eerily quiet on the University of St. Thomas campus Thursday night, even as nearly 300 people gathered to mourn the 20-year-old student killed Sunday in a car crash that led to criminal vehicular homicide charges against her boyfriend.
Ria Patel was fatally injured when the car she was in, driven by Michael Laurence Campbell, 21, slammed into a light pole in northeast Minneapolis. She died at the scene, while Campbell took off running, according to Hennepin County prosecutors.
On Thursday night, near the arches leading into the St. Paul campus, dozens of Patel’s friends, family members and fellow students shared hushed condolences. Some hugged; many wiped away tears.
Dozens of flower bouquets, lit tea candles and several photos of Patel with her friends and relatives marked the pathway. Several friends shared memories of Patel, including stories of her skipping to football games, dancing and always smiling.
Patel’s roommate, Kelly Swanson, said Patel was her “first friend at St. Thomas.”
“She lived with such exuberance and had a zest for life,” Swanson said. “She was taken too soon.”
“Every time she walked in the room she lit it up,” said her friend Natalie Faber. “She was everyone’s best friend.”
Her father, Bharat Patel, thanked everyone for “celebrating the life of my baby girl.”
Campbell was charged Wednesday with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide.
Investigators found Campbell’s identification at the crash scene and tracked him to a residence in Wright County two days later. They took him to a hospital for a checkup and then to jail.
According to the charges, Campbell admitted to drinking before leaving his house with Patel. Friends later told police that he was “superdrunk” the last time they’d seen him. Around 3:50 a.m., Campbell drove his red Ford Focus into a post near Stinson Boulevard and an Interstate 35W exit ramp in Minneapolis. The crash brought down the attached traffic light, which hit the passenger’s side, caving in the roof and crushing Patel.
Campbell told investigators he fled because he was “traumatized by seeing the state” of Patel after the wreck.
A witness told police she saw the Focus had hit the post and a white male, later identified as Campbell, running away. He circled back and started digging around in the car. When he saw the witness, he told her to call police; she replied that they were already on the way. Campbell took off again.
Officers located and jailed Campbell on Tuesday.