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Doctor, 2 children killed on I-65

Emergency personnel look inan SUV thran inback semitrailer late Monday April 14 2014 which three people were killed. | IndianState

Emergency personnel look into an SUV that ran into the back of a semitrailer late Monday, April 14, 2014, in which three people were killed. | Indiana State Police photo

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Updated: May 17, 2014 6:22AM



Dr. Mallik Chaganti handed out his cellphone number so patients knew how to reach him.

He’d see them after hours. In his home.

“Everyone” in Rensselaer knew where Chaganti lived, a former patient said. But now that community is reeling after Chaganti and two of his children were killed in a crash on Interstate 65 in Jasper County that wiped out half a family Monday night.

Chaganti had just dropped his wife at O’Hare International Airport where she planned to catch a flight to India to visit her sick father, his brother said.

A third child injured in the crash — believed to be the couple’s son — is expected to survive.

And now Ned Speicher, the superintendent of the local school district, said the community is turning its thoughts and prayers toward that boy.

“He and his mom need each other,” Speicher said.

Chaganti, 45, was driving a 2008 Toyota Sequoia south on I-65 three miles south of the Roselawn exit shortly before midnight when his SUV rear-ended a 2003 Volvo semi-trailer driven by Nikolay Kachur, 31, of Battle Ground, Wash., police said. Kachur, who was not injured, had slowed down because another semi-trailer had crashed earlier and leaked nitric acid onto the interstate.

The crash killed Chaganti and two of his children. The third child had to be extricated from the SUV and was taken to Jasper Memorial Hospital, police said. The Jasper County coroner said the boy later was moved to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. Authorities did not identify the children who were killed in the crash.

Rensselaer Central Middle School officials described the Chaganti children as “tremendous,” well-liked students. One recently took first place in the local geography bee and was headed to Indianapolis to compete. Another was the runner-up.

The children and their parents were active volunteers and well-known in the tight-knit community, they said. Chaganti treated many local residents, including members of the school system’s faculty and staff, according to its superintendent.

“Our counselors have been busy all day,” Speicher said.

Parents and students at the school struggled with the loss.

“My heart has hurt all day. I’m very heartbroken,” said Tanja Coran, whose son Chrisjon is a patient of Chaganti’s and a classmate of his daughter. “He was a magnificent doctor.”

Coran was at RCMS to take her son out of school early, as many parents did. Chrisjon, who is in seventh grade, said much of his class was absent Tuesday and more left early as the day progressed.

“Everybody was upset,” he said.

Chaganti practiced at the Clinic of Family Medicine in Rensselaer. A message at the office said it was closed Tuesday because of an emergency. Tim Schreeg, CEO at Jasper County Hospital, said Chaganti was on the hospital’s active medical staff and had joined in June 2002.

“(He was) just very supportive of the hospital,” Schreeg said. “He will be horribly missed.”

Dr. James Wakefield III, another family medicine practitioner who had worked with Chaganti, said Chaganti had served the community for more than a decade.

Anna Zimmer, who works in housekeeping at the clinic, said she knew the family for about 10 years, having met them shortly after they moved there. Zimmer said the entire family just two weeks ago returned from a trip to India to visit relatives.

“It’s hard for me to talk. It’s so difficult,” Zimmer said. “I couldn’t sleep all night.”

She described the doctor as a very kind man who loved flowers and gardening and working in his yard.

“He was very kind and smart. He was really, really a good family man” Zimmer said. “His children really loved him.”

Shock and disbelief resonated throughout the small college community as neighbors and friends came to grips with the deaths.

Neighbor Robert Russell recalled Chaganti as a good man and good doctor who would do anything for his friends or patients.

“Last week I was in the hospital. Even though he was not my doctor he stopped in to check on me,” Russell said.

The Chagantis were among the youngest residents in the neighborhood, which was originally created for the college’s professors and now mostly consists of retired educators and doctors.

Chaganti recently entered a local charity dance contest featuring the city’s “celebrities” and claimed top prize, Russell said.

“He’s really part of the community. Most doctors are kind of aloof. He got involved,” Russell said.

The couple built their home, a 7,000-square-foot multilevel brick structure, with a prayer room and details paying homage to their Hindu culture including a brick inlay above the door that roughly translates to good luck, said neighbors John and Mary Lou Baumann. An empty play set, volleyball net and other youthful amenities filled the back yard.

The children often could be seen playing in their yard or riding their bikes on the circle driveway, neighbors said. Chaganti regularly came home to have lunch with his family.

“As a family, they were very tight-knit,” John Baumann said.

Lawana Walker, 25, grew up in Rensselaer where Chaganti was the family doctor. And even though Walker left Rensselaer four years ago and now lives in Georgia, she said her 3-year-old son has been to see Dr. Chaganti, too.

Once, after emergency room staff refused her father’s request to call Chaganti after hours, Chaganti gave her father his cellphone number in case it happened again.

He was the kind of doctor who would let patients visit him at his home if they weren’t feeling well at odd hours, she said.

He was the kind of doctor who once invited Walker and her father to his back deck to do tai chi.

And he was the kind of doctor she knew would be there if she needed him.

“I’ve never found a doctor like that,” Walker said.



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