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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Updated: March 26, 6:27 PM ET
Family, friends hold bedside vigil for Ray

Associated Press

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- More than two dozen family members and friends held a bedside vigil Sunday for Jason Ray, the North Carolina student who suits up as the school's mascot who was in extremely critical condition after being hit by a car.

The 21-year-old senior remained on life support Sunday, two days after he was struck near his hotel in Fort Lee. Ray, who portrays UNC's ram mascot, Rameses, was in New Jersey for the NCAA men's tournament game between the Tar Heels and Southern California at the Continental Airlines Arena.

Ray's father, Emmitt, who flew to New Jersey in a friend's private plane after getting word of his son's life-threatening head injuries, said doctors hold out little hope for his son's recovery "short of the intervention of the Lord."

Ray left his hotel to go to a nearby convenience store Friday afternoon, and was walking back along Route 4 when he was struck from behind by an SUV. The driver stopped immediately to call 911. No charges have been filed.

"We've known Jason since he was 11 years old -- he is an awesome kid," said Jodi Stewart, a neighbor of the Ray family who attends the same church in Concord, N.C. "I never knew a kid who was more full of life. He was excited every day. He loved what he was doing, he loved God, his family, and being the school's mascot. We have not given up hope."

A group of about 40 people attended a prayer session held on the UNC campus Sunday afternoon, said Laura Ely, a UNC senior who met Ray early in their freshman year. She described Ray as "an amazing person" who has a large, diverse group of friends at UNC and other nearby schools.

"All we can do is hope and know that miracles do happen," she said Sunday night.

Stewart said about 30 of Ray's family and friends were at Hackensack University Medical Center Sunday, including his parents, Emmitt and Charlotte Ray, two brothers, and five high school friends who lived with Ray in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Stewart said Ray is an Eagle scout and is involved in his church. While in high school at Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord, Ray was often seen cheering in the stands at basketball games, she said.

Ray's dad told The Star-Ledger that his son "absolutely loved" dressing up as Rameses, despite the costume's bulk.

"It was his way of supporting the team," Emmitt Ray said. "There are things you just can't explain. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. He wasn't doing anything he wasn't supposed to be doing. He was 200 yards from the hotel."

Police said Gagik Hovsepyan, 51, the driver who hit Ray, had a valid driver's license and did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. His son was asleep in the SUV at the time, police said.

At 6-foot-5, Jason Ray was such a commanding presence that when UNC coach Roy Williams first met him in the campus gym, he wondered aloud why Ray wasn't on his team.

"I'm too slow and I can't jump," Jason told Williams. "But I can be of assistance in other ways, Coach."

Ray is scheduled to graduate in May with a 3.6 GPA, majoring in business administration with a minor in religion. He has a sales and marketing job lined up in nearby Raleigh, N.C.