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Derek Kieper was a smart, funny, intense young man who relished a good debate and would do anything for his friends.

Kieper, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, died early Tuesday morning when the Ford Explorer he was a passenger in travelled off an icy section of Interstate 80 and rolled several times in a ditch. Kieper, who was riding in the back seat of the Explorer, was ejected from the vehicle.

Two others in the vehicle, including the driver, Luke Havermann of Ogallala, and the front-seat passenger, Nick Uphoff of Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, sustained non-life threatening injuries. Havermann and Uphoff, both 21, were being treated at BryanLGH Medical Center West.

The three men, members of the same UNL fraternity, were returning to Lincoln from San Antonio, Texas at the time of the accident, reported to authorities by a truck driver around 3 a.m.

"At this point in time, I'm in shock," Kieper's father, Paul Kieper, said in an interview Tuesday.

"He was a bright young boy, a 4.0," Paul Kieper said. "He loved to be silly. He loved to debate."

Paul Kieper said his son graduated from North Platte High School in 2002. When Derek Kieper came to Lincoln for college, the elder Kieper moved here, too.

Derek Kieper played on the defensive line for the North Platte High School football team, his father said. At UNL, Derek took on five majors — history, psychology, economics, sociology and political science — and had plans to attend law school.

Last year, Derek attended a summer program in economics at Oxford University in England.

"He loved it," Paul Kieper said. "It was his first time with travel abroad."

Kade Pittman, a friend of Derek since seventh grade, said Derek was a true friend.

"He'd do anything for anybody," he said. "He was really funny, extremely intelligent. He'd tutor me in classes he didn't even take."

Pittman said he last saw Derek shortly before Derek headed off to Texas for Christmas break.

"It's really tragic," Pittman said. "He's really going to be missed."

Capt. Joe Lefler of the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office said Havermann was driving the Explorer east on the interstate near Northwest 48th Street when the vehicle went out of control on the ice-covered road. He said the vehicle travelled into the south ditch and rolled several times.

A truck driver headed in the same direction witnessed the accident and called 911, Lefler said. He said alcohol did not play a role in the accident, but he declined to discuss how fast the Explorer was travelling.

Derek, who was thrown from the vehicle, was not wearing a seat belt, Lefler said. He said Havermann and Uphoff were wearing seat belts at the time.

In a column written for the Daily Nebraskan in September, Derek attacked seat belt laws as intrusions on individual liberties and expensive to enforce.

"It is my choice what type of safety precautions I take," he wrote.

"There seems to be a die-hard group of non-wearers out there who simply do not wish to buckle up no matter what the government does. I belong to this group."

Erica Rogers, opinion page editor at the Daily Nebraskan, said Derek's brains and intensity would be missed. Kieper and Rogers had lively political debates, she said.

"He had a Republican focus on economic issues," she said. "He was aggressive. He was really intense.

"He was a very engaging student. I'm sure UNL will be at a loss."

Reach Butch Mabin at 473-7234 or at bmabin@journalstar.com.

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