An Indian student in the United States was killed after she was struck by a police car while crossing the street in the city of Seattle. A student at Northeastern University's Seattle campus, 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula from Andhra Pradesh died after she sustained critical injuries when a marked police patrol vehicle struck her on 23 January in the city's South Lake Union neighbourhood.
Local media reports said that Kandula was attempting to cross the street, walking on the crosswalk, when she was struck by a police officer allegedly responding to a “priority one” call in coordination with the fire department.
The police department defined such a call as one that is of the “highest priority” and is with respect to “a threat to life.”
Meanwhile, a fire department official told The Seattle Times that the call was to aide a “28-year-old man who was evaluated and later declined transport to a hospital.”
While the Seattle police initially did not reveal the name of the officer who struck Kandula, they said that he has been with the department since November 2019. He was later identified as Officer Kevin Austin Dave.
Department Spokesperson Detective Valarie Carson told The Seattle Times that Kandula’s death was not being investigated as a case of use of force and added that the Dave had not been placed on leave.
“At this point in the investigation, we have no reason to believe the officer intended to hit that woman,” it said.
In another statement, the police said:
“We acknowledge that there is understandably tremendous interest in the surrounding facts, but for purposes of both preserving the integrity of the investigation and respecting the family’s right to privacy, we will not be putting out information over and beyond what has already been provided. We will provide all publicly releasable information, including the report, once we are able to do so, and in consultation with the family.”
Several Seattle residents condoled Kandula’s death and raked up an important conversation around the need to make the city’s streets safer for pedestrians.
Who Was Jaahnavi Kandula?
Kandula’s uncle, Ashok Mandula from Houston, said that he was “in shock” after hearing the news and booked a flight to Seattle on the night of the incident.
He said that Jaahnavi was from Adoni, a city in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool district and is the daughter of a single mother working as a schoolteacher. She also had a sister, who lived with her mother.
Her mother had taken a financial loan to make sure that Kandula could travel to the United States to earn her graduate degree. The 23-year-old graduated from the Dr Jyothirmayi Degree College in Andhra Pradesh after completing her Bachelor in Commerce and was perusing a Masters of Science when the incident occurred.
In a message to students of the university, David Thurman, dean of Northeastern’s Seattle Campus, remembered Jhaanavi as a “stellar student and a delightful and effervescent human being,” whose death will be felt “deeply by students, staff, and faculty across campus.”
FundRaiser Crosses Rs 1 Crore Target
An online fundraiser on Go Fund Me, set up to help Kandula’s grieving family, raised nearly Rs 1.3 crore ($161,466) within a week, exceeding the $125,000 (about Rs 1 crore) target.
More than 4,800 people responded to the request to raise money through the fundraiser organised by Vanisudha Chilukuri from Texas, who launched the fundraiser on 28 January.
Chilukuri said that the fundraiser was closed after a huge response.
“While Jaahnavi may not be here with us anymore, her dream will live on. Your generous donation will help realise that dream,” she said.
"We will discuss with Jahnavi's mother on how best we can put the generous donation to good use to give financial security," Chilukuri added.
Kandula’s friends and family have demanded that the Seattle Police release more information around the circumstances that led to her untimely death.
“The family deserves answers to their questions, and her grieving mother deserves closure. We will continue to push police and city officials for answers,” Chilukuri said.