“She always wanted to go to school,” said classmate Julio Higuera, 18, as he left Chavez-Perez’s memorial service Monday at the Habing Family Funeral Home in Gilroy.
“She’d be there trying, even if she was tired,” he added. “She didn’t even make it to 18. It doesn’t even feel real.”
Mikey Garcia, 18, another classmate at the service, said Chavez-Perez “was really motivated to graduate.”
Chavez-Perez, a student at the alternative AdvancePath Academy located on the Gilroy High School Campus, was near the junction of Highway 152 and Canada Road when she was struck by a 2011 Infiniti G37 just after midnight March 3, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Erica Elias. Chavez-Perez passed away at the scene of the accident.
CHP identified the driver as a 25-year-old woman from Livingstone in Merced County.
Elias stated that the woman was driving alone and that she passed a sobriety test.
Grace Flores, 37, a cousin of Chavez-Perez and one of the hundreds of mourners in attendance at Monday’s memorial, explained the teen “was walking in the middle of the street” right before she was killed. Why that is, however, remains unclear.
Toxicology reports that could assist the investigation are expected next week, according to the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office.
In the interim, CHP Officers are conducting door-to-door investigations in the area of the accident, explained Elias. These property visits, along with interviews with family and friends, are designed to create a profile of Chavez-Perez’s activities in the 24 hours leading up to her death, said Elias.
On Monday, as the funeral cortege prepared to make its way to the Gavilan Hills Memorial Park, white and purple balloons were handed out to participants. An onlooker noted that purple had been Chavez-Perez’s favorite color; another noted that white signified purity.
By the time the hearse reached the memorial park, the tree-lined esplanades were thronged with more than 60 cars.
Mourners gathered around Chavez-Perez’s final resting place, and a cheer rose from the crowd as people released the balloons in unison.
Charles Morales, an instructional aide at the AdvancePath Academy, a program under the umbrella of Gilroy Unified School District’s Mt. Madonna Continuation High School, is still in shock at Chavez-Perez’s death.
“She had a beautiful smile, she was bright and independent,” he remarked.
As Morales continued to speak, he painted a picture of a young woman devoted to her studies who was “compassionate and smart.”
Principal Jennifer Del Bono of Mt. Madonna attended the memorial service and presented Chavez-Perez’s family with letters of support written by students at the school.
“Mt. Madonna and the AdvancePath Academy are like a family, we’re such a small school,” she said.
The close-knit bond forged between the students and the staff lead everyone at AdvancePath to become very fond of Chavez-Perez, Del Bono explained.
Recalling an occasion when Chavez-Perez emailed her personally to find out what more she could do in the classroom, Del Bono asked, sadly: “Why do things like this happen to good people?”
Teacher Phuong Vu noted that Chavez-Perez was “extremely focused on her work.”
That work revolved around Chavez-Perez completing her high school credits and then possibly entering college, explained lead teacher Lynn Camacho-Light. Chavez-Perez had been a student at the academy since spring 2012.
“Your heart just breaks for the family,” said Camacho-Light.
Fellow students have also adorned the workspace that Chavez-Perez used every day at the Academy with flowers, cards and notes.
“She was cool,” commented one girl.
Two car washes were held over the weekend to raise donations to help Chavez-Perez’s family. The second car wash, which was organized by a local bicycle club called City Style Cruizerz and included the raffle of two bikes, raised $3,500 according to the club’s secretary Michelle Medina.
Local boxing phenom Roberto Guerrero even made an appearance and took time to talk with the family, recalled Medina.
“I was in awe,” she added.
She said strangers walked up to the car wash and donated food and drink for the volunteers. The two bikes that were raffled were donated by the City Style Cruizerz and the Los Padrinos Car Club of San Juan Bautista.
All the equipment used during the car wash was provided by Under Pressure Washing of Gilroy, said Medina.
The bicycle club’s connection to Chavez-Perez is strong – her grandfather and uncle are members – and the car wash was organized after the uncle, Paul Michael Chavez, reached out to other members to see what could be done, according to Medina.
The $3,500 raised was given to Chavez-Perez’s mother, Sonia on Sunday immediately after the car wash to show that “there is good in Gilroy,” said Medina.
The family has chosen to raise donations for the funeral costs, and donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/27pvio.