SAN JOSE -- Shayla Cypriano had finally found her way.
After spending her youth struggling through one foster home after another, the 23-year-old mother had earned her high school equivalency, landed a job and was moving toward her dream of providing a happy and stable life for her 2-year-old daughter. That all ended Thursday when she was killed in a freak accident. She was riding her bike to her new job at a pet grooming shop and was a half block away when a dump truck and delivery truck collided on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Auzerais. The delivery truck toppled on its side, pinning Cypriano underneath.
After all Cypriano had endured and all she had overcome, her death simply wasn't fair, said her mother, Erin Altadonna of Hayward.
"She had a tough road and she struggled to get started, but she did it. She did it," Altadonna, 43, said. "She got her GED. She was moving forward. I was so proud of her. That's why I don't understand.''
Katie and Jeff Senigaglia were equally devastated. The Willow Glen couple took in Cypriano three years ago when she was three months pregnant and had just started dating their son. When the couple broke up, the Senigaglias and their son knew they couldn't turn out this young pregnant woman.
She had already bounced among foster homes through part of her life and had only recently aged out of the system. So they let her stay.
"I just thought, I'm just going to do it, because this is helping," Katie Senigaglia said. "She was really trying. When you see a person try, you gotta throw 'em a rope."
That's what Senigaglia's grandmother had done some 40 years earlier when, at age 65, she put off her retirement plans to be a missionary in India to instead raise the two adolescent daughters of a friend who was killed in a horrific car crash in 1970.
"My grandmother is my hero, and I thought this is my chance to make a real difference in someone's life," Senigaglia said. "It's not giving money to an organization. It's actually climbing in the trenches and doing it."
Senigaglia was proud of the young mother as she earned her high school equivalency and got a job at Grooming Extraordinaire. Cypriano loved animals and dreamed of opening her own grooming business one day. She road her bike four miles to work each way.
"She was so excited," Senigaglia said. "I took her out to dinner at the Pruneyard to celebrate."
Cypriano was also a good mother, Senigaglia said, and had enrolled her daughter, Olivia, at a parent participation preschool, where she volunteered.
The Senigaglias felt like grandparents to the blonde-haired baby. They took her for walks and read books to her.
They wanted the child to have a stable life, and they all pledged to "work together to raise this child and get her off to a really good start so it breaks a pattern, so it just busts up the whole foster care pattern."
Cypriano was pronounced dead on Lincoln Avenue Thursday morning. Within hours, Child Protective Services had taken her child into its care overnight while it evaluates the fitness of the Senigaglias and reaches out to the child's relatives. They interviewed the Senigaglias on Friday and, for now, have returned Olivia to their home.
"I would never walk away from her," Katie Senigaglia said of little Olivia. "I want what's best for her. However it works out, I hope we stay in her life."
On Friday, both families came together at the Senigaglias' Willow Glen home, trying their best to mask their grief as Olivia bounded around the yard in pink play clothes and Hello Kitty sneakers.
Even Trudy Karl was there. She was one of the survivors of that 1970 accident on the Benicia-Martinez bridge when a drunken driver crossed the median and crashed head-on into a camper carrying a South Bay Girl Scout troop, killing her parents. Senigaglia's grandmother, Adele Charlson, helped raise her as one of her own.
"There can be grace that can come out of this,'' Karl said. "It's just tragic right now.''
Altadonna, the toddler's grandmother, was there too. She said she re-entered Cypriano's life about five years ago after locating her daughter and son on MySpace. For years, she said, she had been searching for the children that she was forced to leave behind in Hawaii, fleeing what she called an abusive relationship.
She is grateful to the Senigaglias for all they have done for Cypriano and Olivia. The Senigaglias say that Altadonna is a good person, too, and has kept in close touch with her daughter and granddaughter. Altadonna recently bought Cypriano a dog grooming kit to help her get started, and Cypriano, just last week, took her mother out to lunch.
"She was a beautiful person," Altadonna said. "She was taken right as she got started. It's just not fair."
Staff writer Tracy Seipel contributed to this report. Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Follow her at twitter.com/juliasulek
A memorial fund for the benefit of Shayla Cypriano's daughter Olivia Cypriano
United Security Bank
1875 S. Bascom Ave., Ste. 119
Campbell, CA 95008
Account No. 135220418
The family has also created an online fund seeking donations for Olivia: www.gofundme.com\helpolivia