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Damir Kussain, 19, from Kazakhstan, Wei Jie Zhu-Li, 19, and his brother Jun Jie Zhu-Li, 21, both from China, were walking on the sidewalk at around 6:35 p.m. on Sunday Dec 22, 2019, when a car ran through the intersection at Progress Avenue and Markham Road. It then mounted the sidewalk, striking a guardrail before hitting the three students, causing the death of the two 19-year-olds and leaving the third student with non-life-threatening injuries.The Globe and Mail

A few minutes before he was killed in a car crash on Sunday evening, Damir Kussain, an international student at Toronto’s Centennial College, texted his friend Carlos Hinojosa to ask whether he was free to play poker.

“He liked to play [cards,]” Mr. Hinojosa said. “I was cleaning [my room] so I told him, ‘Let’s play later.’ ”

Mr. Kussain, 19, from Kazakhstan, Wei Jie Zhu-Li, 19, and his brother Jun Jie Zhu-Li, 21, both from China, were walking on the sidewalk at around 6:35 p.m. when a car ran through the intersection at Progress Avenue and Markham Road. It then mounted the sidewalk, striking a guardrail before hitting the three students, causing the death of the two 19-year-olds and leaving the third student with non-life-threatening injuries.

Toronto Police said in a news release on Monday that Michael Johnson, 40, of Pickering, was driving a 2014 Mazda eastbound on Progress Avenue at a high rate of speed when he lost control and collided with the men. Mr. Johnson is facing nine charges including impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death, the police said.

Meanwhile, Centennial College international students are mourning two of their colleagues.

“He was one of the nicest guys that I have ever met,” said Mr. Hinojosa, an international student from Peru, in describing his close friend. Both Mr. Hinojosa and Mr. Kussain were studying robotics and had only been in Canada for four months.

“He loved this country as I do,” Mr. Hinojosa said.

A box of playing cards is taped to a utility pole at the scene of the crash. A few flowers, some candles and an opened beer can have also been left there in memory of the dead teens.

When Mr. Kussain didn’t answer his texts on Sunday and stayed offline for hours, Mr. Hinojosa started to worry. The school notified students about the fatal crash by e-mail, sharing the victims’ names later that night.

The school said Wei Jie’s older brother, Jun Jie, remains in hospital.

Mr. Hinojosa was shocked when he learned his friend had died. “I still feel very bad,” he said.

He never thought such a thing could happen to him in Canada. “I came from Peru in order to get a better life like [Damir],” he said.

He feels sorry for his friend’s mother at home in Kazakhstan, where she had been struggling to send enough money to Canada for her son. “He always told me it was difficult for him to stay here,” Mr. Hinojosa said. “It’s expensive.”

Before he died, Mr. Kussain was looking for a way to make some money to support himself.

A group of grief counsellors and therapists met on Monday with the 250 international students who are living in the Progress Campus residence over the holiday break, said Mark Toljagic, a Centennial College spokesperson.

School staff provided one-on-one support to students, who also always have access to on-campus and online services, Mr. Toljagic added.

Centennial College will reopen on Jan. 2, with classes commencing Jan. 6. “I expect plans for a formal memorial will coalesce once everyone returns from the holiday break, including the local students who knew the deceased,” he said.

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