YOGESH AND SONAM Patel came to the U.S. nearly five years ago as newlyweds. They had a simple dream.
“We didn’t have a big dream. Just a small dream, for our lives to go easily,” Sonam said.
They pursued that simple dream by way of New York and Virginia, finally settling in Cleveland, Mississippi, where they purchased a small motel. Then, on Aug. 11, that small dream came to an end when 45-year-old Yogesh was beaten to death allegedly by a man he had just evicted.
Now Sonam, 29, is a widow in a country she barely knows, with a hotel that is losing money. Still, she is not alone. A group of hoteliers read the story about Yogesh’s death and made it their business to help her get on with her life. The story is heartbreaking, said Alpa Patel founder and CEO of Spaceez in Irvine, California, and one of Sonam’s new benefactors.
“She’s working two jobs. She’s getting maybe one two rooms a day, they’re losing money in the property,” Alpa said. “We want to raise awareness for what’s happened to him so that it doesn’t happen to other people. And I’m sure there are other people who have faced this kind of assault but it just doesn’t get reported.”
Alpa has set up a GoFundMe page and a Facebook page dedicated to raising money for Sonam. The pages have raised about $15,000 each as of Sept. 2 for a total of $30,000, halfway to their target of $60,000 to help the widow set up new life. Most of that support has come from the Asian American community in several cities, and it includes offers of jobs for Sonam, who would eventually like to move to Memphis, Tennessee, or anywhere she can get a good hotel job.
AAHOA’s regional directors have agreed to help with the funeral expenses once Yogesh’s funeral once his body is released by authorities, which should be Sunday or sometime next week, Alpa said. Sonam is a member of the Leuva Patidar Samaj community, which along with the Charotar Patidar Samaj and Bhakta Samaj community groups, has contributed to the Go Fund Me page.
Lina Patel, female director for AAHOA’s Eastern Division, has arranged a job for Sonam at a Quality Inn in Dallas owned by Ronnie Patel.
“I told her there are enough people who care about you that something will happen,” Alpa said.
Yogesh’s parents, father Ishwarlal Paptel and mother Kanchan Patel, came to the U.S. in 2000 and Yogesh came in 2015. Sonam came over in 2016 after the couple married. They lived in New York for a while, doing housekeeping work, until moving to Virginia because an acquaintance had told them they would have jobs, but those jobs fell through.
“While we were living there we decided that we didn’t want to work for somebody else. We wanted to save up money and we bought a motel in Cleveland, Mississippi,” Sonam said through a translator.
Yogesh’s parents loaned them $20,000 and they borrowed $20,000 more to buy the Delta Inn Motel in Cleveland.
“We had no friends, no family in Cleveland,” she said.
However, there was an Indian community there that was willing to help them out. Sonam worked at a liquor store and a gas station while Yogesh managed the hotel. She has paid $5000 so far from her other jobs toward what they owe on the hotel.
The Cleveland Police Department has arrested Kentarrus Williams in connection with Patel’s death. According to a police report, officers were originally called to the Patels’ hotel because Williams caused a disturbance and damaged the door. The hotel refunded his money and asked him to leave
After Williams left, Yogesh took the key to the room to turn off the electric devices, Sonem said. It would be the last time she saw him. According to the police report, a witness said Williams returned to the room and when Patel came to tell him he had to leave the two began to fight until Williams hit Patel with a bottle.
Patel was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in nearby Jackson, Mississippi, where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Sonem found out about it after the attack had happened.
“One customer said somebody was fighting in 124 and I said nobody is in 124, my husband in 124. And then she says yes somebody hit your husband,” she said.
Williams has been charged with homicide and is being held on $500,000 bail, according to Sagar Shah, president and co-founder of Reform Lodging, a hotelier group that has been bringing attention to the case, who received the information from the Cleveland police.
“They have several witnesses who also saw what happened,” Shah said. “They are going to do whatever they can to keep this dangerous criminal behind bars.”
Alpa said Sonam told her what she wants to see happen to Williams.
“She wishes that he would live in the jail all his life,” Alpa said.
Yogesh’s death has ended the life they were both building in Cleveland. Sonem said they wanted to pay off the motel and then they want us to start a family so that she could live with her family without any stress and burden.
They had no life insurance, and the Delta Inn’s business has dropped precipitously since the murder. They used to rent 10 to 12 rooms on the weekend, Sonam said, but lately she gets barely one room to rent.
“Right now, I’m here, but I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ she said.
Alpa said she has been impressed by the community support she has found for Sonam.
“The Patel community’s aggressive rally behind this fundraiser to support her and the outpouring of love and support that she has received has just been so inspiring for me to see,” Alpa said. “I feel like that’s that sense of community is going to be lost in another generation.”