Flowers surround a photo of Gabriel Crispo and Nino in a memorial at PCC's Community Education Center. Photo Courtesy: Edgard Escalante
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When San Marino Police (SMPD) responded on July 4 at 10:36 a.m. to a grim scene, prompting front page reporting and quick identification of the “unresponsive pedestrian,” news of the fatality shook the busy English as a Second Language (ESL) program at PCC’s Community Education Center (CEC) in the middle of the summer term.

“In recognition of professor Gabriel Crispo, who was tragically killed, needlessly killed, in a street racing accident in which he was an innocent bystander,” said James Osterling, board of trustees president, to adjourn their July 17 meeting.

The CEC is a compact campus on Foothill Blvd. which houses PCC’s noncredit divisions in one main building and a few bungalows. Within those close quarters, Crispo’s friends described feeling a blur of disbelief and heartbreak. On Friday, July 5, several faculty attended a memorial at the crash scene on Huntington Drive.

“I still have colleagues now, who, when we sit and talk, they can’t talk about him,” Assistant Superintendent / Senior Vice President Robert H. Bell said on Sept. 5. “It’s still hitting them that much.” 

Crispo’s jogs with his longtime girlfriend, Martha Franco, and their dog, Nino, were characteristic. A July 4 jog was unusual.

“He would always go away on the Fourth of July,” said instructor Suny Aguilar. “For some reason, this year he decided to stay.”

The SMPD blotter made no specific mention of Franco or Nino. Franco was following behind them during the jog. That distance saved her from the crash, but not from its aftermath. Nino was alongside Crispo and died instantly.

“Nino was his baby. So it’s so weird, and rare, and at the same time, nice, that he went with a friend,” Aguilar added, with a sad smile. “That’s just out of this world.”

More than two months after Crispo’s death, a sense of sadness is still palpable in conversation. CEC faculty were eager to tell what Crispo meant to them, as they continue to process what happened to him. 

Crispo taught at the CEC since 2001, and elicited respect for his professionalism and interpersonal style.

“Being well-read, and being cosmopolitan, being understanding … gave him that worldview that very few people have,” instructor Christian Marulanda said about Crispo’s teaching. “You’re that bridge that makes the transition into American life a little bit easier. That’s something that I will always admire about him.”

Marulanda knew Crispo for four years. 

“By looking at his example, he was an inspiration to do it the best way possible every single day,” instructor Edgard Escalante said.

Escalante met Crispo at the CEC 15 years ago. Their friendship developed over frequent chats as both men arrived at work.

“I felt sometimes that we were like brothers,” Escalante said. “I was surprised, because exactly the way I feel is what others have experienced too.”

Aguilar enjoyed a similar friendship during 17 years with Crispo.

“You could talk to him about pretty much anything,” Aguilar said, as she recalled Crispo’s authenticity, friendly banter, competitive spirit, and his confidence. “He was like an older brother to me, because all the things that he would tell me are pretty positive.”

The gnawing shock of Crispo’s violent death lingers.

“When you really know somebody and you really care about them, you never forget,” Bell said. “I know that’s one of the salient reasons why everyone misses him, because you have that little bitty hole in your life now that’s there.”

To begin mending that hole, colleagues found comfort and smiles in Crispo’s qualities.

“He was very metrosexual,” Aguilar said, with a laugh. “I would make fun of him: ‘How could your girlfriend put up with you? Do you compete with the mirror?’ He just laughed, so I guess he did!” 

Instructor Celsa Garcia valued Crispo’s emotional intelligence.

“He was always a gentleman,” Garcia said. “He had the ability to make people feel comfortable, like [finger snap] that quick. You knew you could count on Gabriel.”

Faculty in search of justice for Gabriel are following the case. The San Marino Tribune reported that after a preliminary hearing in August, the drivers, who are minors charged with vehicular manslaughter, were returned to house arrest.

“It makes me angry that we don’t have him,” Marulanda said. “It will make me very angry if it will be like his life didn’t matter, when it actually in fact mattered to a whole community, in a big way.” 

Crispo’s students built a small memorial of photos and flowers, which was displayed in a corner of the CEC building.

“The day that some of them were notified, I heard students crying very hard,” said Escalante. “Specifically, feeling the loss and not understanding how that happened so quickly. And so difficult to comprehend.” 

A permanent memorial for Crispo, possibly a plaque, is being considered near a rose garden in the heart of the CEC.

“That would be something that I think we would really need to do, and I think he would really appreciate,” Bell said. “Because if he were here, he would probably be pushing me to do it for someone else.” 

Gabriel Crispo was 49.

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