A 19-year-old Centennial College student who was struck and killed by an alleged impaired driver in Scarborough is being remembered as a model student, reflecting on his young life at his funeral on Tuesday.
“He’s the student every professor wants to see in class. He’s there, he’s getting those grades, he’s incredibly passionate about his subject — food and beverage — and he really wants to make a difference,” Dr. Craig Stephenson, president of Centennial College, told reporters.
“You just don’t expect a 19-year-old to be losing their life in this way. It’s just horrific and the tragedy is just immense, and it’s going to take a long time for that healing to occur.”
Wei Jie Zhu-Li and his brother Jun Jie Zhu-Li, along with Damir Kussain, were walking on a sidewalk on the south side of Progress Avenue near Markham Road at around 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 22 when they were hit by a vehicle travelling eastbound at “a high rate of speed.”
All three international students were taken to hospitals. Wei and Kussain died while Jun sustained serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.
Pickering resident Michael Johnson was arrested and charged with impaired and dangerous driving-related offences. He appeared in court shortly after the incident, but he was denied bail — a rare occurrence for someone without prior convictions. The charges against Johnson haven’t been proven in court.
Jun, along with family members, attended Wei’s funeral on Tuesday. He had to walk with the assistance of crutches of a leg brace.
Michael Cheung, the funeral director that oversaw Wei’s funeral, said the family chose Tuesday as the day for his burial because there was special meaning.
“The family tried to find a lucky day to do it — a lucky day according to the Chinese calendar, so today is a lucky day and it happens to be the end of the year,” he said..
“I’ve been in the business for 16 years. I see a lot, of course not day-to-day right, but this is one of the most saddest funerals.”
Wei’s family didn’t address reporters, but college officials paid tribute to Wei. The first-semester student was described as a high achiever who was passionate about the culinary arts.
Katherine Ma, president of Centennial College Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said she hopes Wei’s death will serve as a pivotal message for many.
“He’s been taken away by the drunk driving accident, so I just want to tell in front of these people and also tell my classmates or my friends, like never drive and drink,” she said.
Meanwhile, Stephenson said support will continue to be made available to students. He also said college staff are looking for ways to honour Wei’s memory, such as a scholarship to a student in the food and beverage management program that shows commitment and high academic achievements.
“I know I speak on behalf of the entire Centennial community today,” Stephenson said.
“We grieve with you, but please know we have strong arms and overflowing hearts — and we are here for you.”