Otavio Fleury's life tragically ended with the sunrise in Ho Chi Minh City on September 21.
The Brazilian American's 250cc motorcycle lay broken in the street next to his $78 full-face helmet.
A ward policeman identified Fleury by the bike, which he'd custom-painted orange and black-- the colors of the Ivy League University where he earned an engineering degree and played football.
Initial reports about the circumstances of his death left those who knew him with more questions than answers.
“It does not make sense,” wrote Deanna Taschida in an email. “It seems out of character for Otavio. He was such an intelligent, responsible and respectful young man with so much potential.”
An ice deliveryman who claimed to have witnessed the accident said Fleury was making a legal right turn from Dien Bien Phu to Dinh Tien Hoang, but did so at a reckless speed. The deliveryman, who refused to give his name, denied earlier media accounts that suggested Fleury wasn't wearing a shirt or had driven in the wrong direction.
He and several other neighbors gathered to recall the “handsome young foreigner” believed Fleury must have been intoxicated.
Friends say that's highly unlikely.
A photo of Otavio Fleury.
Friends and colleagues say that the man who died in a predawn motorcycle accident was an ambitious, active young man who liked to drive fast.
Fleury spent the preceding evening at home and left without his wallet. No one knew where he was headed that morning, but a new acquaintance named Nguyen Xuan Anh Trang said they'd made plans to meet him for a bicycle ride at 7am.
“He never showed up,” she said.
On a recent visit to the site of his death, a group of locals said few were awake to see what caused Fleury to clip the motorbike of a 27 year-old Mekong Delta man named Tran Hoang Giao.
Many more gathered around the surreal aftermath.
Fleury's bike had jumped onto a narrow sidewalk and sent him sailing into the wall of a Lotteria, shattering the large white wall tiles. Friends say the impact blew his white t-shirt up around his neck and killed him on impact.
A broken piece of the bike flew off and cut into the foot of an unidentified elderly lottery ticket salesman walking by at the time of the collision.
Giao was taken to the hospital.
Thanh Nien was unable to obtain further information about their condition as of press time.
A source speaking on condition of anonymity said Fleury's initial autopsy report made no mention of drugs or alcohol and cited the trauma of the crash as the cause of his death.
Those who knew him well seem to have accepted that he died from going too fast.
Lust for life, odd sleep schedule
Fleury was born in 1990 in the Brazilian mega-city of Sao Paolo, but grew up in a series of small towns in Illinois speaking Spanish, Portuguese and English.
He won regional and state awards for his academic performance and achievements on his high school football and volleyball teams.
At Princeton University, he continued to play sports, participate in student organizations and study hard.
In 2010, Fleury finished third in the Ivy League as a punter on the football team.
He worked during his summers and won a scholarship in 2011 to travel back to Brazil for a month to do research on a development model for building energy efficient schools.
Friends recalled him as a Renaissance man who also enjoyed playing chess, listening to cello music and plunging into long discussions on obscure and disparate topics.
Fleury's college room mate and team mate Brian Pourciau said Fleury had a boundless energy that manifested in wanderlust and an odd sleep schedule.
“Being born in Brazil and then growing up in the US always made him adventurous,” he wrote in an email. “He wanted to experience as much as possible first hand. Simply reading about it or hearing about it from a friend wasn’t enough. This is what drove him to Vietnam.”
John Evans, an alumnus of both Princeton University and its football team, remembered meeting Fleury after giving an annual speech to graduating players about Asia.
Fleury immediately began peppering him with questions about Vietnam and spent six months pursuing a job.
The Ho Chi Minh City office of Tractus Asia Ltd. said they didn't need him. But Evans decided to create a place for him anyway.
“I told my team if he's half as relentless in pursuing business as he in pursuing this job we should hire him,” Evans said.
Life in Vietnam
Roughly 18 months ago, Fleury arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and went to work in Tractus' office—a narrow house just a few blocks from where he died.
Tall, fit and frequently dressed in formal business attire, Fleury cut an imposing figure in a city where most foreigners are notorious for bumbling about in flip-flops and backpacks.
Many who met him assumed he was far older than his 24 years.
His colleagues said that soon after he arrived, he accompanied them on motorbike trips throughout southern Vietnam, bid generously at charity auctions, took Vietnamese language classes and spoke to his parents every day.
He regularly beat them to the office and worked days that began at 7am and ended at 7pm. Evans recalled getting work-related messages from Fleury as early as 5am and as late as midnight.
His mother Ana, father Tomaz and older brother Ricardo had all come to visit him in Vietnam two weeks before his death.
The family declined to comment for this article.
Stacey Mejivar, a college friend now living in Houston Texas, said Fleury was happy with his life and spoke about exploring more of the world.
He seemed to enjoy nothing more, she said, than driving his motorbike through Ho Chi Minh City.
“If I could think of a way that Otavio would have wanted to go out it would have been on his motorcycle because he loved that thing so much,” she said.
Evans said Tractus has put everything aside to prepare the necessary arrangements for the repatriation of his body to Oswego, Illinois.
Evans will travel home to attend Fleury's funeral, which has been tentatively scheduled for some time next week.
On Thursday night, roughly 30 people gathered at Vesper's Gourmet Lounge near the Saigon river and lit a bucket full of long white candles next to a picture of Fleury grinning during a barbeque party where he spent all night working the grill.
Some recalled big plans he had in the works—like creating a program to bring local engineers up to speed on the latest low-cost environmental testing tools.
Most of the speakers, however, described a young person trying his best to figure out what life is all about.
At the corner of the room, Kai Childs, a British-Japanese expatriate who moved into Fleury's shared house three weeks before his demise described being astounded by Fleury--just one year his senior.
“He was training for his first half-marathon, taking martial arts classes twice a week,” he said. “He used to listen to books on philosophy while he ran--sometimes at two or three in the morning. I was like: 'who is this guy?’”
Childs said Fleury seemed pensive in his last days and believes he was thinking about what to do with the next phase of his life.
Fleury had taken a spill on a bike three months before his death. When others warned him to be more careful, Childs says he shrugged it off.
“You only live once,” he recalled Fleury saying.