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Monday, April 22, 2024

UF student car crash victim remembered by friends, family

<p>UF freshman Aira Mallari, right, poses with her roommate, Destiny Weeks, Friday morning. Mallari died after crashing her car Friday.</p>

UF freshman Aira Mallari, right, poses with her roommate, Destiny Weeks, Friday morning. Mallari died after crashing her car Friday.

Aira Karina Curad Mallari was in a rush to get home on Friday.

It was the weekend before her 18th birthday, and the first time she was going home to see her family in Pinellas Park since starting Summer B at UF.

Mallari’s older brother called her four times while she was trying to leave her Beaty Towers dorm room, her suitemate Shakayla Taylor said.

Mallari and her brother, John, 23, were as thick as thieves. They were excited for the reunion. She told him she was on her way.

But the 17-year-old biochemistry freshman never made it home.

Mallari died Friday evening after crashing her car on Interstate 75 in Pasco County.

She was traveling south at about 5:40 p.m. when she somehow lost control of her 2008 Honda Civic, according to published reports. The car crossed a grass median into the northbound lanes and hit two other cars before splitting in half and catching fire.

Kyle Mansfield, 25, of Hernando, was hospitalized for his injuries after Mallari’s car collided with his Chevy pickup. Christine Penner, 46, of Largo, was treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Mallari was flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, where she was later pronounced dead.

Back at Beaty, Mallari’s roommate, Destiny Weeks, knew something was wrong.

Weeks, an 18-year-old nursing freshman, noticed Mallari’s Facebook wall filling up with posts saying “Rest In Peace.” She called Taylor, who had also gone home for the weekend.

“It’s crazy,” Weeks said. “It just seems like she’s going to come back.”

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Mallari’s 18th birthday would have been Wednesday. Taylor, Weeks and a third roommate had already bought her a cake adorned with her favorite character, Hello Kitty.

That was the first thing Weeks noticed about Mallari: She had a Hello Kitty comforter on her bed, Hello Kitty cellphone cases, Hello Kitty clothing — even a Hello Kitty-themed Honda at home.

They were fast friends. They took turns cooking in the dorm kitchen, and Mallari impressed her roommates by cooking burgers with cheese inside the patties.

She had a plan to cover the shared refrigerator with pictures of all the boys the roommates liked.

“She was the mastermind of all of our boy schemes,” Taylor, an 18-year-old food science and human nutrition freshman, said.

But if she loved boys and cooking, she loved her family much more.

Taylor said Mallari counted down the days until she could go home.

“Why are you so excited to leave us, Aira?” Taylor would ask her. “Don’t you love us?”

“I do,” Mallari would reply, “but I’m so excited to see my family.”

Taylor thinks that excitement might have been what caused Mallari to crash her car.

The two walked out to their cars together Friday afternoon. Taylor was chilled on Monday remembering their conversation.

Taylor said Mallari asked her what the speed limit is on I-75.

She had never driven on the interstate alone.

Taylor told her. She knew Mallari and her brother were auto enthusiasts and that her brother had driven in excess of 100 miles per hour on the way up to Gainesville for residence hall move-in day.

Taylor now worries that Mallari had been speeding, but was not experienced enough to manage her speed.

“She felt rushed and she was going to get there,” Taylor said.

But, Weeks added, “She’s one of the safest drivers I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Beaty Hall residents will hold a memorial today in the dorm’s courtyard. Mallari’s body will be flown to the Phillippines, where she was born, following a viewing in Pinellas Park on Wednesday, her birthday.

Taylor and Weeks are traveling down for the viewing. They want to see their friend’s family, who didn’t get to say goodbye.

“We’re lucky we got to spend the last few weeks of her life with her, and we got to say goodbye,” Weeks said. “We feel so blessed.”

UF freshman Aira Mallari, right, poses with her roommate, Destiny Weeks, Friday morning. Mallari died after crashing her car Friday.

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