Friends, loved ones and coworkers grieved the death of the “contagiously happy” San Jose and former Gilroy woman who crashed her car into a tree on Highway 101 in Gilroy Saturday morning, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Crystal De La Torre, 28, was pronounced dead on the scene at 4:16 a.m. CHP reports indicate that De La Torre had driven her car into a large pepper tree on the southbound shoulder near the East Sixth Street overpass.
“It’s a tree that everyone crashes into,” said Erica Elias, public information officer for the CHP.
While the cause of Saturday’s crash is still under CHP investigation and was not available Monday afternoon, those who knew De La Torre expressed disbelief in the possibility of it being an alcohol-induced crash.
“We’re curious as to what happened,” said Alva Castaneda, a friend of 16 years to De La Torre. “Her head was so good on her shoulders, I can’t imagine her drinking and driving.”
By Monday afternoon, a collection of flowers, stuffed animals and signs surrounded the tree where De La Torre was found dead.
A Los Banos native, Castaneda said De La Torre graduated from Los Banos High School in 2002.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy that I had the chance to know her, because she was such a beautiful, positive person,” Castaneda said.
Described as “very motherly,” by several friends, De La Torre had no children, but loved on and nurtured all of her friend’s children as if they were her own.
“She was so great with my three kids, when she came to visit, she would spend as much time with them as she would with me,” said her friend of 11 years, Laura Garcia of Los Banos.
“She was very smart, very friendly, very alive. Whether you knew her five years or five minutes you couldn’t help but love her,” Garcia said.
De La Torre worked as a secretary for the Campbell Union School District, a position she held since 2008, according to her co-worker Mary Lou Danz, 53.
In what Danz described as a “total meltdown moment,” the staff at CUSD held a Monday morning vigil for De La Torre to pay tribute to the woman who “lit up the office with her smile.”
De La Torre’s death was particularly sad for those who knew her at CUSD, because after four years as a secretary in the school service department, Monday was the day De La Torre was going to step into a new position as a secretary for the special education department in the district.
“She had just started training last week, and was supposed to start today,” said CUSD spokeswoman, Marla Sanchez.
Sanchez said De La Torre had “so many positive things” about to happen in her life: A new job, a pending move to a new apartment just up the street from CUSD, and tentative plans to get a puppy - all things that De La Torre gushed about to her friends and co-workers.
Before working at CUSD, De La Torre was an account executive at Comcast in Morgan Hill for four years, Sanchez said.
Friends said that De La Torre was pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix in San Jose, with a goal to counsel children who came from abusive homes.
De La Torre’s boyfriend, 28-year-old Pismo Beach resident Sam Puentes, said that De La Torre had moved to San Jose four or five months ago after living with her friend in Gilroy - although he did not know how long she had lived in Gilroy.
Puentes said De La Torre helped all those around her.
“No matter what she went through, she still had the biggest smile, and made sure that everyone else around her was OK,” he said.
De La Torre is survived by her parents and two younger brothers, according to her friends. According to the Santa Clara Coroner’s Office, De La Torre’s mother, Carmen Calderon, lives in Gilroy. Her family could not be reached before press time, and according to friends and co-workers, her memorial service has not yet been arranged.