Temple dance team's co-captain dies in van crash in Virginia

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Kammini Rajoopath, (center, standing), was a sophomore at Temple University and co-captain of the school's Bhangra dance team. Bhangra is a form of traditional Indian dance. (Family photo)

KAMMINI RAJOOPATH dreamed in color, a choreographer for her own life.

A Temple University sophomore, Kammini - or "Mini" to her friends and family - didn't have a boyfriend, but had planned to get married inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

She had picked names for two of her four future children: Joshua and Kaden, according to her roommate, Rutu Patel.

And she planned to make it as far as she could as a dancer.

"Her favorite quote was, 'Life may not be the party we want it to be, but since we're here, we might as well dance,' " Patel said.

On Friday night, Mini, 21, was chasing that dream.

Co-captain of Temple's Bhangra dance team, she was one of eight members of the team in a van heading to Durham, N.C., to perform their traditional Indian dance at a competition. They planned to drive through the night so they could dance as an exhibition team over the weekend.

One of Mini's closest friends, fellow dancer Bilal Badruddin, 20, of Cranford, N.J., was driving the Ford E-350 van on I-85 in Dinwiddie County, Va., south of Richmond and about 300 miles from Philly.

Around 2:30 a.m. Saturday, Badruddin was so tired that he drove off the left side of road, striking the guardrail, Virginia State Police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said.

Badruddin then tried to gain control, but overcorrected, and the van ran off the right side of the interstate and struck that guardrail.

Mini and Fatima Pervaiz, 20, seated in the back of the van, were not wearing seat belts. They were ejected through the right rear window, police said.

Mini died instantly.

Pervaiz was flown to Virginia Commonwealth University Hospital, in Richmond, where she remained last night with serious, but not life-threatening, injuries.

All others in the van - Badruddin; Manisha Modi, 19; Kirandeep Shamphale, 21; Roshni Patel, 19; Reshma Roy, 19, and Nidhi Thakur, 20 - sustained minor injuries.

Police have charged Badruddin with reckless driving, but members of the Ragoopath family have no bitterness or anger toward him.

"He's a good friend of ours," said Mini's father, Glen Ragoopath. "They've been family friends forever.

"Bilal and Mini were two peas in a pod," he said, his head hung low. "What can we say? It was an accident, and sometimes accidents happen."

Modi, 19, co-captain of the dance team with Mini, was in the front row of the van. "Most of us were asleep," Modi said in a telephone interview yesterday, after she was discharged from the hospital. "I just remember Kirandeep yelling Bilal's name. Then I remember swerving and hitting the rail.

"Mini and Fatima were thrown out. We couldn't see them. Bilal went back and saw her. It's awful. They were best friends. They were inseparable.

"We're like a family," she said. "Bilal is not to blame. It just happened."

Badruddin is devastated, surrounded by family and friends, said Modi, who suffered a broken jaw and collarbone. "He can't talk about it yet."

Yesterday afternoon, friends and relatives huddled in the kitchen and living room of the Ragoopaths' Lansdale apartment.

"She was the life of the home, the life of the family," her father said.

Glen and Susan Ragoopath, both of whom have Indian roots, came to Philadelphia from Trinidad in 1988.

Mini was born in Philadelphia 21 years ago, on Jan. 21, the middle child of three girls. She always lived big.

"She danced as soon as she could walk," her mom said. "Any music would come on and she'd dance. She was always moving."

She played competitive tennis, but dance was her true love, said her father, who has a remodeling business.

"Dance was her dream and I never prevented her or held her back," he said. "I told her you have to live the way you want to live."

"She loved sports and was very competitive," said her older sister, Camille, 23. "She had to be Number One for everything. I'm surprised she wasn't born first."

Mini, a graduate of North Penn High School, switched her major a couple of times at Temple and settled on public relations with a minor in dance.

She taught young kids ballet at the Institute of Dance Artistry, in Fort Washington, her mom said.

"She was the best roommate I ever had," Patel said. "She would always listen to me. Even if she was real tired, she'd stay up until 5:30 in the morning talking to me. We decided that when we get married, we wanted to get houses next to each other. She'd teach the kids to dance. I'd teach them to cook."

Patel last saw Mini shortly before she got into the van. "She was so excited to compete," she said.

Patel hasn't returned to the apartment where she lived with Mini. "I don't know when I'll be able to go back," she said.

Mini, who loved fashion and was first among her friends to get Ugg boots, also competed in beauty contests. Last year, she made first runner-up in the Miss Caribbean Beauty Pageant at the New Freedom Theater in Philadelphia.

In the printed program for the competition, she credited her parents for her independence and "goal-driven personality."

"I expect to accomplish a lot more in my lifetime," she was quoted as saying. "I have high hopes for myself. I will not settle for anything less than what I believe I deserve."

Saturday morning, the Ragoopaths were waiting for Mini to call to let them know she'd arrived safely in Durham. She always called.

Instead, two local police officers knocked on their door to tell them Mini was gone.

The parents stood in their kitchen yesterday, side by side, their eyes filled with the kind of pain reserved for those who have lost a child.

Their hands shook as they held photographs showing her beaming smile. Each left the room briefly whenever a new wave of grief hit.

"Mini lived her life with passion," her mom whispered. "She loved everything she did. She had more energy than you can imagine. Her life ended when she was going to do what she loved."