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Like many UCF students, Matthew Keller said goodbye to family and friends back home and excitedly took off from Lakeland to Orlando the last weekend of summer to start the fall semester. But on Aug. 22, Keller’s ride back to UCF took a wild and life-threatening turn.

Halfway to Orlando, driving 70 mph on Interstate 4, Keller suddenly saw large flames emerging from the edges of his car’s hood and, with the windows down, sparks emanating from his tires. Almost as if it were in neutral, the power and brakes gave out. His car caught on fire.

“I was about to lose everything that I spent my life building,” said Keller, a junior integrated business major.

In a haze of worry and desperation, he quickly swerved into an emergency lane, grabbed his laptop and phone and made it out of the car.

In moments, the sky gave way to rain, allowing the flames to quickly dissipate. But his once jet-black 1994 Toyota Corrolla was now an ashen gray. Keller had lost most of his belongings to the fire, including his clothes and music recording equipment.

The fire had started from the bottom of the car, he said, causing the floorboards to get so hot that the bottoms of his shoes had melted.

He had an internship lined up for Orlando Baptist Church’s worship group, 35 minutes from The Marquee, where he had just moved.

But with little money, no car and no job lined up, he had to give it up and search for jobs on campus.

“I moved in the next day, started moving things in — I was in tears, I didn’t even want to be here,” he said.

But Keller isn’t giving up. He started a GoFundMe to help raise money for a car, and has so far raised $240 with a goal of $5,000. Though fleeting thoughts directed him to move back home because of the sudden incident, he decided to stay and finish his degree at UCF to fulfill his goal of starting a full-fledged music production company.

“I’ve always been able to, in times of prayer, in times like this, to see where I’m going,” he said. “I have work to do — I’m not done. I have lives to change, I have love to spread.”

UCF Student Care Services manager Angela Newland said students who are undergoing difficult situations like Keller’s can approach a Care Manager for help.

The managers usually handle each situation on a case-by-case basis, directing students to different departments that can help, such as Student Legal Services or Counseling and Psychological Services.

“Care Managers can assist students in distressing situations by offering support and options,” Newland said. “The student can connect with Student Legal Services, UCF PD and Health Services for follow up after this type of situation.

“Student Care Services can also help with a class absence notification in the event an individual is hospitalized or needs help coordinating with classes.”

Student Care Services is located in Ferrell Commons on campus, and students can either contact a manger beforehand or just walk in, Newland said.

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Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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