PALM COAST, Fla – The Dalai Lama's nephew was killed Monday along a Florida highway during one of his long treks to bring awareness to the Tibetan struggle for independence from China, officials said.
Jigme K. Norbu, 45, was hit by an SUV around 7:30 p.m. on State Road A1A along the state's eastern coast, the Florida Highway Patrol reported. Police released few other details.
According to www.ambassadorforworldpeace.org, Norbu was on a Valentine's Day "Walk for Tibet" some 300 miles from St. Augustine south to West Palm Beach. Norbu of Bloomington, Ind., the son of the Dalai Lama's late brother, Taktser Rinpoche, has done similar walks several other times, including one of 900 miles in 2009 from Indiana to New York.
That walk marked the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan rebellion against Chinese rule that resulted in the exile of his uncle, who is Tibet's top spiritual leader.
Pierre Tristam, editor of www.flaglerlive.com, a community nonprofit news service that covers Flagler County, was on his way to a restaurant to interview Norbu and some of his companions about the walk when he noticed police lights on the highway close by.
He told The Associated Press he went to the scene to see what had happened and when he realized it was Norbu who had been killed, "I was floored."
He said Norbu was walking along the white line on the side of the dark highway when he was hit. The highway isn't lit, and Tristam didn't think the moon was out. In September, a dishwasher going home from the same restaurant where Norbu was headed was struck and killed on his bicycle along the highway, Tristam said.
Norbu, a native of New York, was killed about 25 miles south of St. Augustine, where he had begun his journey with several others.
The SUV was driven by 31-year-old Keith R. O'Dell of Palm Coast, who had his two young children with him, according to the Highway Patrol's report. They were not injured. O'Dell was not charged.
Norbu's late father was a high lama who was abbot of a monastery when the Chinese invaded. The brothers fled into exile following the 1959 uprising.
Rinpoche, who died in September 2008 at 86, was a professor of Tibetan studies at Indiana University in Bloomington while serving as the Dalai Lama's U.S. representative. The Dalai Lama has visited Bloomington several times. The city about 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis is home to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple.
China claims Tibet as part of its territory, but many Tibetans say Chinese rule deprives them of religious freedom. Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of pushing for Tibetan autonomy and fomenting anti-Chinese protests.