'Positive' University of Georgia Student Dies 1 Week After Helping Raise $20K for Charity

Friends said Ariana Zarse, 20, was "exceptionally impressive" and a "go-getting type" who recently won a charity boxing match

Ariana Zarse
Ariana Zarse. Photo: Facebook

The University of Georgia community is mourning a student who died in a hit-and-run crash over the weekend.

In a press release obtained by PEOPLE, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department identified the victim as 20-year-old Ariana Zarse.

Police said Zarse was crossing a street with a friend in downtown Athens just after midnight on Saturday when she was struck by a Honda Accord. Her friend was not hit by the vehicle, which immediately fled the scene, according to the release.

Following the collision, Zarse was transported to a local hospital, where she died from her injuries, authorities said.

The vehicle has been located but police said they are still working to determine who was driving at the time of the crash.

Ariana Zarse
Ariana Zarse. Facebook

Zarse's loved ones have been left devastated by the tragedy, which came just one week after she participated in a charity boxing match, according to NBC affiliate WXIA.

"I woke up from a nap around like three o'clock and one of our other fighters, Morgan, had called me. Her voice was kind of trembling," Zarse's boxing coach, Dean Agnew, told the outlet. "Morgan said, 'I want you to hear from me first, but Ari passed away last night.'"

"At first, I'm like, 'Is this a joke?' " Agnew, of Keppner Boxing, continued. "When I found out, I pretty much cried all day... I literally was just was with her last week, so it hit me pretty hard."

Zarse was one of 22 fighters who competed in Delta Sigma Phi's The Classic City Showdown, WXIA reported. Approximately 1,700 people, including 10 sorority chapters, were in attendance as the fighters boxed to raise money for charity, according to a video of the event.

Zarse — who was the director of social events for Pi Beta Phi at UGA, according to her LinkedIn page — ended up winning the competition and helped raise more than $20,000 for the American Red Cross and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, per WXIA.

"Ari was my first fighter," Agnew, who trained Zarse for months before the event, told the outlet. "So me, as a coach, that meant the world to me."

Ariana Zarse
Ariana Zarse. Facebook

"When she won [the charity event], I started crying," Agnew continued. "Me and Ari had a relationship that I didn't have with friends who I've known for three years and me and Ari, we knew each other for two months."

The win was equally as important to Zarse, according to her close friends, who described her to ABC affiliate WSB-TV as "exceptionally impressive" and a "very positive, very go-getting type."

"She was saying what a high it was, it was the biggest high of her life," Keith Keppner told the news channel. "The fact that we got to share that with her, it was really beautiful."

Though heartbroken by her sudden death, Agnew said he felt lucky to have had that final memory at the boxing match with Zarse.

"One of the biggest things for me was that I gave her one last kind of like, hurrah, when she won her fight," he told WXIA. "It was one of the last big things she got to experience and that, that pulls on my heart a little bit knowing that I was a part of that."

"It's been messing with me a lot," Agnew went on. "I keep going back reading through old text messages looking at fight videos of her hugging me and I hear her voice."

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As friends and loved ones continue to grieve, they are honoring Zarse by living each day to its fullest.

"The legacy I say Ari leaves behind is that any day could really be your last," Agnew told WXIA. "This could be our last week, you never know. So, you have to really live every day like it's your last."

Added Keppner to WSB-TV: "We need to be reminded from this horrific incident that we never know when our last [days] are here... it's a fact of life."

According to police, Zarse's death marks the 20th fatal motor vehicle crash in Athens-Clarke County this year.

Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact Officer First Class Tilley at (762) 400-7355 or via email at dustin.tilley@accgov.com.

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