SAN JOSE -- For a group of kids who struggled to adjust to the rigors of high school, 15-year-old Andy Martinez became their beacon for figuring it out.
Teachers say the sophomore, once considered an at-risk student, turned a corner over the past school year and learned the rhythms of school, on top of the rhythms of the homemade hip-hop tunes he wrote with a posse of friends and classmates.
"He was the life of our class," said Sue Tatro, a teacher who worked closely with Andy. "We were mostly silent (today). We didn't have anything to say. We cried; we prayed."
His ascendancy was tragically cut short Monday morning when, while riding his bicycle to Silver Creek High School, he collided with a pickup truck as schoolmates also heading to school looked on in horror.
Andy was just two blocks away from campus.
Traffic investigators are still mining the details, but the prevailing narrative is that at 7:36 a.m. Andy was heading east along East Capitol Expressway when he and a northbound truck on Silver Creek Road crashed into each other, hurtling the youth onto the roadway.
Emergency crews performed CPR on Andy and rushed him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead about half an hour later. An exact cause of the crash has yet to be determined. The teen was riding a fixed-gear bike with a hand brake and was not wearing a helmet.
While authorities have not formally confirmed the victim's identity, several school and community sources confirmed to this newspaper that it was Andy.
The driver, who police say stopped at the scene and was cooperative, was visibly distraught as he watched investigators examine his truck. He declined to comment, saying police asked him not to talk about the collision, but did nod when asked by a reporter if he thought he had a green light.
A junior at Silver Creek walking by the crash site said the campus mood was somber and challenging given that final exams are being held this week. Graduation is Thursday.
"He was just a sophomore. There was so much of ahead of him," said the 17-year-old student, who asked not to be named out of privacy concerns. "Everyone is sad. It's the last week of school. It's supposed to be a party."
Once news broke of Andy's death, grief counselors were summoned to the campus of about 2,400 students. Principal Adolfo Laguna said he has visited the teen's family and vowed to provide any available resources to help the school community heal.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to support our staff, students and the family through this tragedy," Laguna said.
He added that the death is a poignant reminder of how careful motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists have to be around the school area, particularly during the morning rush. The intersection where Andy died has long been one of the city's busiest, with Capitol Expressway spanning more than 10 lanes and the Highway 101 connector just a quarter-mile away.
"We have to be more aware of what's happening around the schools. We have to take care of our youth," Laguna said.
Andy's family moved last year, Laguna said, and Andy had been riding a bicycle to school. Because of the move, he was due to transfer to another high school in the fall.
Meanwhile, those who knew Andy recalled his passion for music -- he had sights set on one day working in production -- and his efforts in class to take spray-painted "street art," as Tatro called it, and apply it to conventional art settings so that it would be regarded as more than mere graffiti.
"He was one of our most creative, one of our most fun," Tatro said.
By throwing himself into his school work, Tatro said, Andy bucked the stereotypes often associated with students in programs aimed at helping them catch up to more traditional study habits.
"When he came here, his test scores were high, which meant that there was a problem with the way we were teaching him," Tatro said, espousing the tenets of the "180 Degree" program that tailors learning plans for struggling students. "He's worked really hard to know (what) he needed to do."
Tatro said a memorial is tentatively planned for later in the week, and that a makeshift altar is forming in her classroom. Her original plans for a class final was to have students write about what they've learned about each other. It seems now that those essays will naturally flow into a more singular direction.
"I expect," Tatro said, "everything will go toward our fallen brother."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.