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Yuba City teen's tragic death presents time to celebrate life

Kayla Lizama-Pierson's expansive, close-knit family will gather in Yuba City as it does every year for a Thanksgiving feast.

But the experience will not be the same.

News of the young woman's death Sunday morning, just hours after she had celebrated her 18th birthday, left those who knew her emotionally shaken.

Photos — hundreds of them reflecting a sunny demeanor and carefree smile — now accent their Facebook pages.

According to the California Highway Patrol's collision report, Lizama-Pierson's friend, Natalie Boutillier, was driving north on Garden Highway at a little after 11 p.m. Saturday.

She approached Barry Road at about 55 mph and lost control of the vehicle. As she entered "a slight left hand curve in the roadway," the report reads, "she failed to slow for the wet roadway conditions."

The 1996 Honda Civic began to spin counter-clockwise and left the west side of the roadway into an orchard, where it slid sideways into a walnut tree.

Boutillier escaped the wreck with minor injuries, according to the report.

But the passenger "seated in the right front ... sustained fatal injuries."

Alcohol and drugs were not a factor, according to the report.

Kristina Cruz, 29, Kayla's cousin, said that dozens of family members, including Kayla's parents and siblings, reached Rideout Regional Medical Center in Marysville around midnight, to be at the unconscious teenager's side.

Kayla died, Cruz said, while being prepped for surgery.

"We want people to know that she didn't suffer," Cruz said. "She was fighting strong. They brought her back twice. But her heart just stopped."

Strength is a quality, Cruz said, that her cousin had in spades, and that the family intends to share with the community in the coming days.

A series of events are scheduled to raise funds for Kayla's parents and to celebrate her life.

On Sunday evening, Celebrate the Kayla Project will feature school and church choirs and dance groups — including one that involves Kayla's siblings — in the River Valley High School gymnasium.

Kayla, a 2012 graduate of River Valley, loved to dance, Cruz explained.

"She and her sister put together a dance performance for any family function," she said. "All the siblings performed together."

Kayla left behind an older sister, Kendra, with whom she was especially close, and a younger brother and sister, Clarence and Kelsie, who attend River Valley.

"We're going to do this for her to make her happy," Cruz said. "She never wanted anybody to be sad."

Fundraising events on Friday and Saturday will include a car wash and bake sale, and a Fill the Megaphone effort, much like those conducted at busy intersections to raise money for firefighter groups.

Kayla had been a Pop Warner cheerleader, Cruz said, and was an avid freelance cheerleader for her friends and family members' sports events.

On her 18th birthday, it had been Kayla's turn to get the cheers.

"She had all her best friends with her, including Natalie," Cruz said. "We all spoiled her, and she had the best day ever."

On Thursday, the roughly 50 family members who customarily gather for Thanksgiving, will allow themselves to lean on the kindness of their community.

Members of a local church and parents who worked with the Lizama-Pierson family through athletics programs at River Valley have volunteered to bring food to Kayla's aunt's house in Yuba City for the holiday dinner.

CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at npasternack@appealdemocrat.

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