WESTWOOD — When Melissa Del Aguila found out that she had been accepted to the school of her dreams, UCLA, she didn’t just pick up the phone and call her parents. That wouldn’t be enough for the adventurous and passionate young woman who wanted to attend the Westwood campus ever since she was a kid growing up in Rowland Heights in the San Gabriel Valley.
Instead of dialing, she hopped on a plane and flew to her family’s home in Racine, Wis. to deliver the good news in person.
“She came around 7 a.m. and just knocked on each of our doors and said, ‘Surprise, I got in to UCLA!’” said her younger sister, Stephanie Del Aguila, 21. “It was a dream come true for her, and it meant a lot for our family.”
Del Aguila, who studied political science at UCLA, walked across the graduation stage with her fellow classmates earlier this month. Her next mission in life was to attend law school. She was planning to spend her summer at New York University.
But around 2:20 a.m. Saturday, after celebrating with friends, Del Aguila, 24, was struck and killed by a taxi driver while trying to hail a cab in the 2400 block of Wilshire Boulevard near Douglas Park, police said.
A preliminary investigation revealed that the driver of a Bell Cab was heading westbound in the number one lane of Wilshire when Del Aguila was seen by witnesses darting into traffic from the north sidewalk. She was struck by the oncoming taxi. She was transported to a nearby hospital in critical condition. She later succumbed to her injuries, said SMPD Sgt. Richard Lewis.
According to several witnesses, Del Aguila was last seen at Q’s Billiards on Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles, a popular UCLA hangout, around 1 a.m. Del Aguila had no mode of transportation and investigators with the Santa Monica Police Department are trying to determine how she made her way into Santa Monica.
Investigators are asking anyone who may have seen the accident to contact them at (310) 458-8954 or (310) 458-8950. Del Aguila was described by police as a female Hispanic, 4 feet 10, 95 pounds with long, straight brown hair, brown eyes, wearing a light floral colored blouse, dark blue “skinny” jeans and white, high-heeled shoes at the time of the accident.
Michael Calin, the general manager of Bell Cab, said he was “shocked” when he heard about the accident and sends his condolences to Del Aguila’s family and friends. Calin said the driver involved in “not handling it OK at all,” and has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
Police said the driver was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident. He submitted to a blood test, the results of which were not available Wednesday.
“This is truly tragic,” Calin said.
A memorial for Del Aguila is planned for today at 5 p.m. at 10954 Roebling Ave. near the UCLA campus. Members of her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, are hosting.
“She was a very ambitious girl,” Stephanie Del Aguila said of her sister. “She was a very caring person. She would talk to just about anyone, and build strong relationships with people. She was very passionate about politics, her dogs and her friends.”
One of her closest friends was Eric De Santos. The two met while working at a Verizon Wireless store five years ago and dated for a short time. They remained close, Del Aguila providing words of encouragement during De Santos’ darkest hour when he was laid off and struggling to make ends meet.
“She was always there to support me,” he said. “She would tell me, ‘Don’t worry, Eric, you are going to get through this,’ She was right. She was so right. Everything turned for me.”
De Santos said Del Aguila loved art, music and dancing, being around people and was a loyal Democrat who supported President Obama’s campaign and the rights of women.
“She could get fiery at times,” when talking about politics, De Santos said. “She was such a smart person.”
And motivated. De Santos said she worked and attended junior college so that she could one day transfer to UCLA. He admired that drive, calling her a “school-aholic,” who had little time for other endeavors, like painting, which she dabbled in.
De Santos remembers talking with her the day before she died. She was looking forward to spending time with her friends from school, soaking in the social scene that she rarely had time for.
“Her last week … literally would have been her happiest to be alive,” he said. “She was graduating, she was on good terms with her sorority and was looking forward to the next challenge.
“The last time I saw her I remember telling her that she was my best friend. I told her I loved her and I left.”