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4 Indian programmers working in Mich., 2 wives die in crash

DETROIT, May 12, 2008 (AP): A minivan carrying a group of Indian computer programmers and their wives on the way to a Niagara Falls vacation flipped and crashed in western Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border, killing six of seven people on board, officials say.

Four of those killed and the lone survivor were programmers who worked for Troy-based Syntel Inc., an information technology outsourcing company.

The van crossed a median on Interstate 90 and was hit by an oncoming car about 4 p.m. Saturday, police say. They said it was about three miles inside the Pennsylvania-Ohio border when it crossed the highway and began flipping and rolling, coming to rest on its roof.

It was then struck by an oncoming westbound car, whose driver was treated at a hospital and released Saturday night, said Pennsylvania state police Cpl. Kevin Havern.

The crash killed driver Kaushik Deb, 26, and five of his six passengers _ Manoj Jharia, 35; his wife Mili Jharia, 28; Nitin Agarwal, 29; his wife Swati Agarwal, 25; and Shubham Choudory, 24.

The sole survivor in the minivan, Nitin Gupta, 28, was sitting in the front passenger seat, Havern said. He was also treated and released from a hospital Saturday.

Calls to a Farmington Hills telephone listing for Gupta were not answered Sunday evening.

Deb, Choudory, Gupta, Manoj Jharia and Nitin Agarwal worked as software writers for Syntel, said Jonathan James, vice president for marketing and investor relations.

``Our sympathies are extended to the families of the victims on this very sad day,'' he told The Associated Press by telephone Sunday. ``Our primary concern is ensuring the families get all the care and support they need during this very difficult time.''

Like Gupta, the victims all lived in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, James said. ``Arrangements are being made for the bodies of the victims to be transported back to India,'' he said Sunday night.

The Jharias and Agarwals were from the city of Jabalpur, Choudory was from Indore and Deb was from Calcutta, James said. He did not know Gupta's hometown in India.

Some had worked up to four years for Syntel and others had worked as little as three months, James said. The company has started a memorial fund for the victims' families and is considering whether to bring in grief counselors, he said.

The seven were traveling with another van carrying six people that was a few minutes ahead of them. James said he did not know if any of those in the other van were Syntel employees.

The two groups had just left a rest stop and traveled about a quarter-mile when the accident occurred, said Kranthi Bandaru, who was traveling in the second van.

``We left them about 10 minutes before they drove on,'' Bandaru told the Erie Times-News. ``We continued down the road when we received a cell phone call from Nitin that there was an accident. That's when we turned around.''

State police said there was no apparent cause of the crash. Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook said he has ordered toxicology tests for minivan's driver.

The car's driver, Melanie Cesnick, 25, of Avon Lake, Ohio, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, the Times-News reported.

Syntel is an information technology company with 27 offices and 12,000 employees worldwide and 2007 revenues of $337.7 million, according to its Web site.

The four employees who were killed had worked as software writers at the offices of various Detroit-area companies served by Syntel, James said. He said the trip was a personal vacation and not a company sponsored excursion or business trip.

Associated Press writer Jim Irwin contributed to this report.






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