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4 victims' mourners consoled

Published January 18, 2007


TAMPA - In the long red-ceilinged room of the temple, the abbot's voice crackled as if it were coming from space. The mourners, over a hundred of them, sat listening.

In life nothing is certain, the abbot said from 15,000 miles away. We know when we are born, but we don't know when we will die.

The abbot, Phrakroovithetsuttikhun, was delivering a sermon by a long-distance phone call. He was traveling in his native Thailand when word reached him that four of his congregants here were killed in a crash.

Pranom Crist, 60, Agustin Valdes, 91, his wife Khanthong Valdes, 41, and her mother Thongjan Kongtan, 73, were killed Monday when Crist tried to make a U-turn in front of an oncoming gas tanker in Sarasota.

Crist lived in Valrico, the others in Brandon. They all attended this Buddhist temple in Palm River.

Somewhere in Thailand, the abbot said: Everyone on the earth will die. It's natural.

As she listened, Nuansee Hill, 61, bowed her head. She had helped make the flower arrangements on the altar: red carnations, white baby's breath.

Crist had been one of her first friends here when Hill came to the Tampa area decades ago from Thailand.

Crist, an American serviceman's wife and one of the first Thai to emigrate to Tampa more than three decades ago, was a lifeline to many new Thai, helping them adapt to a foreign land.

Everyone here tonight will face this, the abbot said. What lasts are our actions. Our good deeds.

At the front of the temple, incense smoke curled in front of the photographs of the dead.

[Last modified January 18, 2007, 01:01:27]

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