It was the start of a new year for Karan Khullar, one that was supposed to bring new beginnings, new friends and a slate of new experiences in a foreign land.

He had just turned 22 in December, and in January, he boarded a plane from India to the U.S., his eyes set on completing his undergraduate studies in computer science at UF.

Roughly 7,870 miles later, he stepped foot on American soil for the first time.

“He loved this place,” said Nikhil Singh, a UF student who quickly befriended Khullar. “I never saw him sad.”

Less than two months later, Khullar will return to his hometown of Jammu, to a family in mourning, one preparing to cremate their son.

On Saturday, Khullar had just finished watching a Bollywood movie, a reminder of his Indian culture, when he and some friends decided to go to Midtown.

He joked while standing near a bus stop outside Campus Club apartments. It was about 9:30 p.m., and a Later Gator F bus was on its way. For his new friends, it would be the last time hearing Khullar’s voice and seeing his smile.

Moments later, a speeding white Hyundai barreled down Southwest 37th Boulevard, jumped a curb and struck Khullar, leaving him bloodied as he lay several feet away.

The car’s driver, whose blood-alcohol content was nearly double the legal limit, didn’t check to see if he — or his two other friends in her way — had been injured, police later said. She was later caught, and is facing charges of DUI with damage, causing a crash involving death and injury and manslaughter.

Khullar died in the emergency room at UF Health Shands Hospital, leaving behind a younger brother, father and mother.

“He never did anything wrong to deserve this,” said Singh, 23, who had his feet run over during the incident.

For Khullar, visiting Gainesville was supposed to further his career.

In India, U.S. trips are a rite of passage. The choice to attend UF was a matter of coincidence, as it was the only foreign-exchange program offered at his university in India, JayPee University of Information Technology, his younger brother, Varun Khullar, said.

The prospects of a new country and a new culture intrigued him. During his time in The Swamp, after playing cricket in high school and college, he developed an interest in American football.

“He was very excited,” the 20-year-old said.

With just a semester left before his undergraduate studies would be complete, Khullar already had three job offers and was likely going to start at Ernst & Young, a technology company, in June.

“He was very ambitious,” Varun Khullar said. “His professors used to love him.”

Despite living here for just over a month, he made dozens of friends and excelled in his classes. He was remembered as a religious, dutiful friend — one who would wake at 6 a.m. every day for morning prayers.

Khullar’s family plans to bring him back to India to be cremated, Varun Khullar said.

At about 1 p.m. Saturday, Sufal Mahajan spoke to his best friend of four years for the last time.

Weekly phone calls had become customary between the two. Even on opposite ends of the world, nothing changed. Khullar told Mahajan, a 21-year-old living in India, of his Bollywood film and his plans to go out on the town.

The following morning, he learned his friend was gone. Hearing the news from a friend, his world shattered. He was in disbelief.

“Every week he used to call me, and it’s hard to accept he won’t call me again,” he said. He wasn’t alone.

“Our whole college went numb after hearing the news,” Mahajan said. “We all gathered, and we couldn’t trust what had happened.”

Mahajan said although Khullar was studious, he cared about others. He would put his books down to help someone in need.

He remembers one night when he fell and bruised his shoulder. It was about midnight, but Khullar took the time to sit with him and apply an ointment to heal the injury.

“He was a very caring person,” he said. “He was like an older brother to all of us.”

@merylkornfield

mkornfield@alligator.org

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