Caroline Celeste Alfano felt free.
She wasn’t wearing makeup, she didn’t do her hair and she was wearing one of her favorite tie-dye dresses as she walked barefoot at Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival on March 5. She and her best friend, Meghan Mapes, admired the art on display after watching one of their favorite musicians, Porter Robinson, perform the night before.
“She looked at me and said how free she felt,” Mapes, 21, said. It was the fifth and final festival the two friends, who met through the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, would attend.
Alfano was still wearing the tie-dye dress as she left to drive home with Nicole Scherten, 23, a UF German exchange student who attended the festival with her. Alfano, a UF architecture senior, left the festival early because she wanted to spend time with Scherten at home in Boca Raton, Florida.
As the pair drove home, Joseph David Lagrego, 22, rear-ended their stopped car at the corner of Southeast 128th Avenue and State Road 710. As a result, Alfano’s 2015 Honda CR-V crashed into the vehicle in front of her, which then struck the one in front of it, according to Alligator archives.
Scherten, a German exchange student studying in the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was pronounced dead at the scene. Alfano was rushed to a local hospital, where she was later pronounced dead, according to Alligator archives.
“There’s no way (Alfano) can’t be here anymore,” Mapes said. “I still haven’t accepted that it happened.”
On Thursday, a memorial will be held for Alfano at 5:30 p.m. at the Architecture atrium, according to an email from Jen Day Shaw, the associate vice president and Dean of Students.
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Nicole Scherten hoped her first semester at UF would lead to a life in the U.S.
The Aachen, Germany, native applied to UF after she and her boyfriend, Marcel Dilk, had visited Clearwater, Florida, and the Keys and fell in love with the state. With aspirations of becoming a German language professor at an American university, Scherten left the University of Bonn for a semester abroad in Gainesville.
“She liked to meet people and speak to people,” Dilk, 25, said. “She found a lot of good friends at the university.”
Alfano was one of those friends. The pair met at a UF NaviGators International meeting — beginning Spring 2015, Alfano served as historian — where they bonded over their love of music and travel. The two eventually made plans to spend Spring Break together at the music festival and then Alfano’s home.
Alfano’s friendship with Scherten, said UF NaviGators International President Sara Horning, was indicative of her generosity.
“She was always looking out for everyone,” the 21-year-old UF public relations senior said. “She saw the best in people, more than anyone else.”
Friends say they’ll remember Alfano’s kindness and passion for architecture, a major she chose after realizing her love for visual arts. Hoping to become a New York architect, she would work until 5 a.m. in her studio in Fine Arts C, on top of working as a lifeguard for UF RecSports and swimming for UF’s club team.
“She’s very much a perfectionist when it comes to her architecture work,” Mapes said. “She wanted to get it just right.”
Scherten was fascinated by the cultural differences between her home country and the U.S. She and her friends would play badminton every Sunday, and her friend Palani Te said she had a sweet tooth. Te, a 20-year-old UF health education and behavior junior, would go with Scherten to Midnight Cookies and Cold Stone Creamery.
“She was like a sister to me,” he said.
Te said Scherten was successfully adjusting to life at UF. He said she had received an internship helping a UF German professor and was focusing on her future career as a language professor.
“She was quiet, but when she got excited, she got very, very excited,” he said.
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The sudden loss, Dilk said, has been felt across two countries.
He planned to surprise Scherten in April by visiting her in Gainesville. Instead, he flew to Florida on Friday with Scherten’s family to clean out her apartment. They didn’t find out about her death until three days after the crash because of a miscommunication between Florida Highway Patrol and German authorities.
“We had the same goals,” he said. “We always wanted to go to the U.S. and live here.”
Alfano’s friends started a GoFundMe on Friday to place two bricks honoring the students on campus. The page’s goal was $2,000 and, as of press time, $3,020 has been raised.
The extra funds will go back to the families of the two women, Mapes said.
She said she doesn’t want to go home to the apartment she and Alfano shared behind Midtown, where Alfano left sketches on the refrigerator door and an embroidery in the living room.
“We shared so much over the past two and half years,” Mapes said. “It’s things like that you take for granted.”
Contact Meryl Kornfield at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MerylKornfield