As the sentencing for Dara Kusiv’s killer approaches, her best friend reflects on how things have changed in her absence.
Almost four years have passed since Dara Kusiv, UNF student and Zeta Tau Alpha sister, was killed at the age of 20 by a drunk driver. That driver is former UNF student Sean Franke, who is now facing up to 25 years in prison. His fate will be decided on Oct. 31 at an upcoming sentencing hearing, where former and current members of the panhellenic community will be in attendance.
Arielle Talmor, Dara’s best friend and current panhellenic president, spoke with Spinnaker about the impact Dara’s absence has had on her life, the Greek community and the University.
Dara was very involved as member of Zeta, did mission work in Haiti, and was the closest thing to a big sister Arielle could imagine.
“Dara was perfect,” said Arielle. ”She had a beautiful voice, she was caring and smart, a straight-A student. She was popular, she could light up a room.”
Arielle has tried to take every opportunity to make this tragedy into something people can learn from. Every semester, she educates new members of Chi Phi and Sigma Chi about drunk driving, taking them to the spot where the event occurred. “I try to facilitate a discussion about responsibility and accountability, and it seems to have an impact,” she explained.
“I don’t tell people that they can’t go out and drink and have a good time,” Arielle said. “But if I can help prevent even one person from driving drunk, that’s all that matters.”
Arielle had an internship with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), where she worked with other people impacted by drunk driving and helped organize their “Walk Like MADD” fundraiser. “Team Dara always raises so much money and awareness,” she said.
The annual ZTA Roundup event, where each greek organization choreographs and performs a dance, is held for the sorority’s philanthropy, but also in Dara’s memory. “She loved dancing, we danced together in high school,” said Talmor. The sorority also adopted the road where Dara died, and hosts a monthly cleanup.
Although Dara’s death shook UNF, time has allowed for healing. A painted talon in her honor, painted by Dara’s “little” and Arielle, can be seen along the walkway between J. Brooks Brown hall and the Student Union.
Arielle, a senior studying Criminal Justice, will be graduating in December. She said Dara’s absence has made her relationship with her family and her sorority stronger.
“The whole thing really pushed me to get involved in my community, I’ve made so many amazing friendships and I received such strong support from everyone,” she said. “I couldn’t have done this alone.”
“We can’t change what happened, but we have to take what we can out of this and turn it into something positive, said Arielle. “I don’t hold anger in my heart.”
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