REDWOOD CITY -- There was an empty desk at Woodside High School Tuesday and it belonged to 14-year-old Leyla Beban.
The bright and compassionate freshman's education, dreams and life will remain unfinished after a collision with a pickup truck killed her as she biked to class around 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Mourners, some who had never met her, piled flowers, stuffed animals and notes at Jefferson Avenue and Alameda de las Pulgas, the intersection where she was struck. Police say it appears the driver, who has not been named, wasn't under the influence of alcohol or speeding. For her part, Leyla was wearing a helmet and was considered a safe rider.
The news hit hard Tuesday morning as Woodside Principal Diane Burbank announced the death to students. Her statement was yet more heartbreaking because Leyla was a student in advanced classes with a bright future. As one teacher wrote in Burbank's announcement: "Leyla Beban embodied qualities we might value in any of our students: compassionate, open-minded, intellectually curious, kind, articulate, considerate, very competent, yet humble."
When reached by phone, Leyla's father declined to comment. No memorial or funeral plans were immediately made public.
Her classmates decorated a tree at the spot on the 1,800-student campus where she and her friends would meet to eat, chat or just hang out. They hung origami birds, paper flowers -- all blue -- and wrote messages like "We love you," and "We miss you" on the thin tree's bark. Blue was Leyla's favorite color and students wore it to school Tuesday to mourn her, Burbank said.
Redwood City police Sgt. Sean Hart said the crash remains under investigation, but so far it appears the collision was a tragic accident. Leyla and the driver were headed east on Jefferson and both turned right onto southbound Alameda de las Pulgas. Residents and police said it's a busy road that runs through an area with several school campuses, but not one they considered especially dangerous.
Theories circulated among mourners about the role of a possibly wet road or the morning's heavy fog, but the official cause of the crash remained unclear. Hart said those factors are part of the police investigation into the collision.
Mourners at the crash site shook their heads and shed tears over the tragedy. Stephanie Carlson, 45, of Redwood City, cried as she visited the memorial, left some flowers and said a prayer. Her daughter, who is also a 14-year-old freshman at Woodside, was in world studies class with Leyla. The girl was devastated by the death, news of which spread quickly on social media Tuesday night.
"She went to class today and is looking at an empty desk," Carlson said. "Things happened so quickly."
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.