The smell of meals being prepared at the school district offices was a weekly phenomenon.
Crystal De La Torre and a group of Campbell Union School District employees would take turns cooking a meal for the group to enjoy. Last Wednesday, she invited Superintendent Dr. Eric Andrew to join them.
"I missed last Wednesday's lunch," Andrew says. "I asked Crystal, 'Where's the food,' and she told me 'You snooze, you lose but you may want to stop in next Wednesday.' That was the last time I spoke with her."
De La Torre, of who lived most recently in Milpitas after moving from Gilroy, was driving south on U.S. Highway 101 Saturday when her Honda Civic veered off the roadway near Sixth Street at about 4:15 a.m., killing her, according to the CHP.
Today was to be De La Torre's first day in her new position as Secretary in the Special Education Dept. Instead, school district employees gathered together to sit and talk and grieve over her loss, Andrew says.
"We wanted to acknowledge the death but also the wonderful things she did," he says.
Andrew first met De La Torre when she started at the district in 2008 as a secretary in the School Services Department.
His first impressions of her still ring true in his mind.
"She was a shining light of happiness," Andrew said. "You could tell she loved life."
She was a hardworking employee, always staying late, but not without a smile, he said.
"She was a great young lady," Andrew said. "She was hardworking yet jovial, quick-witted and well liked by everyone and this was evident and infectious when you were around her. She was like my work daughter."
Mary Lou Danz, secretary to the superintendent had worked with De La Torre for five years.
“We are a small district and very close-knit,” Danz said. “She was like a daughter to me.”
Danz said that when she first met De La Torre five years ago, the “stunningly beautiful young girl” left an impression on her.
“She was very inspiring,” Danz said. “She had the best sense of humor, the best laugh. She could touch your heart.”
Danz said she would watch De La Torre work with parents calling in, listening to both sides with empathy.
“She was very giving of herself,” she said.
According to Danz, De La Torre had recently secured a new apartment closer to the district offices and was continuing her education.
“She had everything going for her,” Danz said. “We are definitely going to miss her.”
The school district is currently in the process of deciding in what way it will memorialize De La Torre. In the past, this has been done with a planting on the school district's campus or with a plaque.
"It needs to be a good representation to remember the person she was," Andrew said, "something that epitomizes her spirit."
For now, the district will remember De La Torre's smile and her impact on the lives she touched.
"She was a beautiful person — inside and out," said Marla Sanchez, district spokeswoman. "We are tremendously saddened about losing her, but tremendously grateful for having known her."