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Student Raises Money For Families Of UF Students Killed In Okeechobee Traffic Crash

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Meghan Mapes was trying to convince her roommate and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sister Caroline Alfano to stay at the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival longer on Sunday, March 5. Alfano wanted to go home to Boca Raton early to be with her parents and introduce them to her friend Nicole Scherten, a German exchange student at the University of Florida F. She drove away from the festival in her SUV, wearing a pastel tie-dye dress with carefree spirit.

Alfano and her passenger were struck from behind while waiting at a stop sign on State Road 710 near Southeast 128th Avenue in Okeechobee County, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Joseph David Lagrego, 22, of Englewood slammed into Alfano’s car and killed Scherten on the spot. Alfano was transported to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and died seven hours later

As a tribute to her friends, Mapes started a GoFundMe page on March 10 that has already garnered $3,110 for memorial bricks to be placed on campus to commemorate their lives.

Meghan Mapes (left) and Caroline Alfano take a selfie at the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Mapes)

With an initial goal of $2,000, she said the fundraiser surpassed her expectations. The extra money will go towards offsetting travel and funeral costs for the Alfano and Scherten families.

Mapes said she feels grateful that she was able to take pictures with Alfano before she left, which she’ll cherish forever.

Before Alfano died, Mapes said, “she was feeling very comfortable in her own skin,” foregoing her usual hair straightening and winged eyeliner routine and walking around barefooted.

“She told me how ‘free’ she felt,” the UF senior recalled. “That’s how I’m going to remember her…feeling free.”

Nicole Scherten and Palani Te (Photo courtesy of Palani Te)

Palani Te, Scherten’s good friend, met the international student through Facebook when she was searching for an apartment to sublease for the summer. The two began Skyping and realized they had a lot in common, including their love of travel.

“Both of them [Alfano and Scherten] were really good at making close friends feel like family, so when something like (this) happens, it’s pretty easy for people to give something,” Te said.

At 3 a.m. on Monday, Scherten’s boyfriend called Te from Germany to deliver the news. Te made several calls to Florida law enforcement, who she said were uncooperative due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

“There’s frustration definitely in not being able to find out a lot of information,” Te said.

Police eventually confirmed the news, but Te knew he couldn’t grieve or Scherten would scold him from wherever she was. It was what she did while she was alive, chiding Te for staying up all night doing homework.

“One of the things that she taught me is things happen, but life always moves on,” he said.

A vigil for Alfano and Scherten will be held on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Architecture Building’s courtyard.

This article has been updated to confirm the location and time of Thursday’s vigil.

About Emma Green

Emma Green is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at 305-965-0447 or greenemma@ufl.edu.

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