Naperville quarry crash victims remembered for humor, confidence

A Geneva man accused of driving drunk into a Naperville quarry early Saturday morning, causing a crash that killed two of his friends, is being held on $250,000 bail, authorities said Sunday.

Meanwhile, friends of the two people who died are remembering Mihirtej Boddupalli, 21, of Lisle, and Sajaad Safiullah Syed, 21, of Naperville for being funny, confident and optimistic.

Driver Michael T. Szot, 21, admitted to smoking marijuana before the fatal crash, and had a blood-alcohol level above the legal threshold of .08, authorities said. He also was found to be in possession of a marijuana pipe, DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said in a news release Sunday.

Szot, a former leader of an anti-drinking club at Geneva High School, would have to pay $25,000 to get out of DuPage County jail before his next court appearance on charges of aggravated DUI and reckless homicide.

“Early yesterday morning, two young men tragically lost their lives because of a very bad decision made by an alleged drunken driver,” Berlin said. “People have got to learn that DUI crashes are not accidents and are 100 percent avoidable by not drinking before you get behind the wheel of a car.”

Szot is accused of losing control of the 2007 Chevy Impala he was driving west on Aurora Avenue at Eagle Street near downtown Naperville at about 1:45 a.m. Saturday. Authorities believe Szot failed to navigate the curve southwest of the intersection, then crashed through several trees and a chain-link fence before the car plunged into the Naperville Park District's Paddleboat Quarry.

Boddupalli and Syed were unable to escape the car as it sunk, authorities said. Divers recovered their bodies.

Both were 2011 Naperville North High School graduates. Boddupalli was an incoming senior studying engineering at Northwestern University, and Syed an incoming senior at Indiana University.

Boddupalli's family declined to comment Saturday afternoon. Syed's family did not immediately return a call seeking comment Sunday.

Friends said both ran cross-country in high school and were well-liked. Both were remembered for their senses of humor and ability to make people smile.

“He (Boddupalli) was a goofball, always making jokes and trying to cheer people up,” said Caroline Koppel, who worked with Boddupalli at Campus Solutions at Northwestern University in Evanston. “He was such a people person.”

Koppel, Boddupalli and four others recently took over management of the storage and shipping company, and whenever the going got tough, Koppel said her friend was the voice of confidence and optimism.

“Mihir was always the one to say, 'C'mon, guys, we've got this. One-hundred percent, we can do this,” Koppel said.

When some time has passed, Naperville Park District Executive Director Ray McGury said he will approach the families of Boddupalli and Syed about possibly creating a memorial to honor the young men at Paddleboat Quarry. McGury worked for 28 years in law enforcement and said the toughest part of his job was having to share bad news with the families of people who had been killed.

This is the first time he is aware of a car has crashing into the former quarry, which is filled with water for use by pedal boats and kayaks.

“I'm going to let these families grieve,” McGury said Sunday. “Once some time has passed, I will contact them to see if there is some type of memorial we can do at that corner. I feel for these families.”

The crash caused only minor damage to the quarry, which was able to open to the public Saturday about 12 hours after the car plunged into the water.

Naperville police continued their investigation Sunday, but directed questions to Sgt. Bill Davis, who did not return a call. The DuPage County coroner's office did not provide a cause of death for Boddupalli and Syed on Sunday, but directed calls to the state's attorney.

Szot's next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 11 in front of Judge Kathryn Creswell. He's charged with four counts of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol causing the death of another person and two counts of reckless homicide.

Judge Timothy McJoynt set Szot's bail at $250,000 Sunday, although prosecutors were seeking $3 million.

Szot's parents did not return a call Sunday seeking comment.

According to minutes of a Geneva High School board meeting from 2010, Szot was co-president of SADD, or Students Against Destructive Decisions, and helped plan Red Ribbon Week, which encourages students to be drug- and alcohol-free.

• Daily Herald staff writers Melissa Silverberg, Eric Peterson and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

Two killed in quarry 2 students drown in Naperville; driver charged with DUI

Workers remove a 2007 Chevy Impala from a Naperville Park District quarry early Saturday. Two people drowned when the vehicle left the road and landed in the quarry, and the driver has been charged with DUI and reckless homicide. Courtesy of WLS Channel 7
  Authorities said a car driven by 21-year-old Michael Szot of Geneva crashed through these bushes and trees into Paddleboat Quarry in Naperville early Saturday morning, killing passengers Mihirtej Boddupalli, 21, of Lisle, and Sajaad Safiullah Syed, 21, of Naperville. Eric Peterson/
  Paddleboat Quarry in Naperville was able to open for boating about 12 hours after driver Michael T. Szot, 21, of Geneva, plunged his vehicle into the water early Saturday morning, killing two passengers. Eric Peterson/
Michael T. Szot
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