SANTA CRUZ -- Aaliya Giselle Luna-Perez was the kind of girl who drew others to her instantly, a straight-talking teenager that others lit up around.
Luna-Perez, 16, of Watsonville, was behind the wheel of a 2001 Hyundai shortly before 7 a.m. Friday when it veered into an oncoming utility truck on Highway 1 near Moss Landing, California Highway Patrol officer Jaime Rios said.
Luna-Perez, who was killed after being thrown from the vehicle onto the road, was not licensed to drive nor wearing her seat belt, Rios said. Her passenger, Tianna Rose Croghan, 15, of Santa Cruz, who had to be extricated from the vehicle by emergency responders, was declared dead at the scene near Jensen Road. She was not wearing a seat belt and did not have a driver's license, Rios said. The crash, along with another that occurred within minutes on the same stretch of Highway 1 delayed hundreds of drivers for more than six hours Friday morning. In the second accident, not fatal, another vehicle allowed his car to veer off the road and hit a pole at the Salinas Road overpass.
Croghan, whose family members could not be reached to comment, reportedly was raised by her grandmother. Her parents, both described by law enforcement as in and out of homeless shelters, could not located to be informed of their daughter's death until Wednesday, Monterey County Sheriff's Cmdr. John Thornburg said.
Five days after the crash, the circumstances surrounding the girls' fatal crash remained cloudy. Rios said investigators know who the vehicle's owner is, but are not releasing that information. They are still investigating where the girls were coming from and going to, or how they came into possession of the car. Rios also said they still are trying to determine the cause of the collision or if alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash.
Initially, CHP investigators said that the 15-year-old, Croghan, was driving, but now believe Luna-Perez was the driver, Rios said.
Luna-Perez seemed to earn fierce support from those who knew her, some for only a short time. North Coast Teen Center coordinator Mildred Gonzalez said she met Luna-Perez three or four months ago to attend the programs in Davenport. Eventually, she volunteered with the youth summer program and food distribution. Gonzalez said Luna-Perez began to feel like a sister, as the two shared confidences. Gonzalez often gave Luna-Perez rides to the center.
"She was a very honest person, so anything on her mind she would always say. She was an amazing friend, she was a loyal friend," Gonzalez said. "I didn't know her for a long time, but when you talk to someone every day, you become close."
Gonzalez said she met Croghan, Luna-Perez's friend, in passing, but did not know her well.
Stephanie Flores Boyd, program director for the Davenport Resource Service Center, where the teen center is located, said Luna-Perez seemed to have a "really big impact" on those she interacted with.
"I saw in her character she was blooming. She had a lot to offer, she had a lot of dreams," Flores Boyd said. "So it's been really hard to think about all that potential and to know that this happened to her."
In an obituary published in the Sentinel on Wednesday, Luna-Perez' stepfather Leo Rocha said she "made me your daddy before mommy was my wife." He said he and Luna-Perez sometimes fought.
"I miss you so much Aaliyah, please God this can't be," Rocha wrote. "I don't want you to have her, I want her here with me."
Family and friends for Croghan could not be reached to comment Wednesday. ------ (c)2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com