On Monday evening, around 200 people made their way to the field behind Arroyo Vista housing where a ceremony was held to celebrate the life of Raphael Nunez, a first-year UC Irvine computer science major, Sigma Pi brother, rugby player and close friend to many on campus.
Nunez was crossing the northbound lanes of the I-405 freeway on foot near Bristol St. on Thursday, May 7 at 11:18 p.m. after attending the Alpha Epsilon Pi Film Fest after-party at Costa Mesa’s Shark Club when he was hit by two cars and killed. The details of why Nunez was on the freeway remain unknown, and his fraternity brothers and friends did not find out about his death until the following morning.
Family, classmates, friends and members of the Greek community arrived in packs to the event organized primarily by third-year Sigma Pi president Griffin Conway and Nunez’s best friend and fraternity brother, Corey Somarriba. A few of the Sigma Pi fraternity members, dressed neatly in suits, began to set up a table with flowers and picture frames on it. Behind the table, a screen began a slideshow of Nunez’s photos compiled by close friends.
The actual ceremony began around 8 p.m. Most students and friends of Nunez sat on the concrete stairs facing the slideshow while the men of Sigma Pi stood behind them next to some of Nunez’s family including his brother Martin Nunez with wife Jennifer, sister-in-law Danielle Nunez and sisters Yessinia and Elo Nunez.
As the memorial commenced, Conway took the stage, talking briefly about his relationship to the deceased and setting up the organization for the night. One by one, several members of Sigma Pi as well as other close friends of Nunez began speaking about their loss as parts of the audience quietly sobbed.
Eight girls were wearing black t-shirts with a photo of Nunez on them, complete with the quote, “Life is too short to be anything less than happy.” The shirts were, in part, the creation of first-years Dona Cantu, an undeclared major and Zee Hussain, a civil engineering major.
“We really never saw him upset,” Cantu said. “We never really noticed that he was so positive until he was gone and now we reflect on how happy he was all of the time. [The quote on the t-shirts] was really the perfect one to describe him. Some of us are really just sitting around pondering why are we just sitting around wasting away our lives when we should be seizing the day being happy with every moment that we live?”
As the ceremony continued, it seemed to follow Nunez’s philosophy. Friends and family were clearly heartbroken by the situation, and most friends choked back in tears while talking about him in front of the crowd.
Martin Nunez delivered a moving, but comical speech about his little brother and encouraged everyone to come up and tell a funny story. Eventually, the tears dried.
“It started out really sad,” said Zee Hussain, “but as the memorial went on, everyone was laughing by the end because of the stories about good times they had with Ralph. That shows a lot about Ralph’s personality. That even at his memorial, he can have people laughing. He’s not even here anymore and he can still put a smile on our face.”
In the wake of Nunez’s death, many people were skeptical about why he was on the freeway. In an article by the Orange County Register, heavy drinking and partying was listed as a potential cause.
The article focused primarily on the “jungle juice” served on the bus that Ralph took to the club, the drunken state of some of his friends and on the fact that he was reported to have been forced to leave early.
Many members of the fraternity were slightly offended by the article, which they feel presented them as shameless party boys. According to Conway, the main goal of Sigma Pi is to promote brotherhood.
“[We were] frustrated at how the article portrayed [them],” Conway said.
Friends of Nunez like Cantu and Hussain agreed that the fraternity was not to blame.
“There is a lot of controversial stuff going on about it,” Cantu said, “and there always will be. Everyone has their own stereotypes and their own views, but the people that really know those people and know that fraternity know who they are. You can speculate about relationships or about people being jerks, but you cannot talk about someone’s death. It is just worsening the situation.”
Despite rumors circling the accident, it is clear that Nunez has affected those around him and has left a positive impression on UCI despite not being able to finish out his first year. His Facebook profile, which is now coated with loving goodbyes from his friends and acquaintances, stands as a testament to his life.