Family members, teachers, and friends of 19-year-old North Bergen High School graduate Tyla Colilla have been struggling to accept her death since a week ago Friday, when she was riding in a car driven by Jessi Saquipulla of North Bergen that crashed into a railroad bridge.
The North Police unit of CSX Transportation have charged Saquipulla, who is male, with possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, and possession of a CDS in a motor vehicle.
The federally regulated railroad company’s police are investigating the incident and so far have been the only source that is allowed to release information about it. According to Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Debbie Simon, CSXT Police have investigatory power akin to the Port Authority Police and the New Jersey Transit police.
However, the charges against Saquipulla will soon be forwarded to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, which will review the case.
CSXT Police said that at 5:40 a.m. on Friday, March 13, a 2008 Honda Civic driven by Saquipulla crashed into the support wall of a railroad underpass at 83rd Street in North Bergen. North Bergen EMS responded to the emergency, and Colilla was rushed to Jersey City Medical Center, where she passed away.
Saquipulla’s age and other details were not addressed in the brief press release issued by the CSXT Police. A MySpace page for Saquipulla that was last updated in 2006 identifies him as 20 years old and living in North Bergen.
According to a North Bergen source, there were no adverse weather or road conditions the morning of the crash.
On Calilla’s own MySpace page, she described her mood during her last login as “optimistic.”
Remembering a dedicated student and friend
North Bergen Superintendent Robert Dandorph and High School Principal Pascual Tennaro said that faculty and students have been in shock over the fatal accident. Tennaro said that the high school had a moment of silence in Colilla’s memory.
“She was a very sweet kid, very lovely, from what I can gather,” said Dandorph. “People that I spoke to said she was a great kid. It brought tears to a lot of people’s eyes. It’s the thing that you fear the most. It’s a nightmare.”
Tennaro said Colilla was a student at Horace Mann Elementary School, his alma mater, for eight years before attending North Bergen High School freshman year. She then transferred to Lyndhurst High School for her junior and senior year, before returning to North Bergen in February of 2008. At the time of the accident, she was living in Lyndhurst and attending Bergen Community College.
“She took part in all of the activities that we had here in the high school,” said Tennaro. “She did extremely well academically.”
Tennaro said he has been personally devastated by the loss, after also losing one of his relatives a few weeks ago.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco said the accident was heartbreaking. He said Colilla’s family members were long time North Bergen residents. While he did not know her personally, he said that he remembered her as a student because she “stood out” so much.
Sacco said that her wake on Tuesday lasted an hour longer than scheduled because of the outpouring of friends and family saying their goodbyes and remembering her.
“The community really took this to heart,” said Sacco. “This is a tragedy.”
‘My heart breaks’
Tennaro said that during his 19 years as the high school’s principal, he has kept a wall dedicated to all of the “Bruins” who have lost their lives too early, before they were able to fully realize the great futures ahead of them.
He said that the school focuses on Project Graduation and safety measures so that students do not get into cars in which the driver is under the influence of a dangerous substance.
“My heart breaks for her,” Tennaro said, “that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time and relied on someone to drive appropriately.”
The investigation is still ongoing, CSXT Police said. Anyone with more information on the crash should call them at (973) 344-5324.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.