MISSION VIEJO — Alethea Kwok wasn't just the girl with all the answers. At Trabuco Hills High School, the 15-year-old honors student, ranked third in her junior class, was the one who helped a classmate running for student office by surprising him with handmade campaign stickers.
She was the one who noticed that a teacher's stamp pad had dried out and bought her a new one from Christmas. The one who compiled a folder of data for another teacher preparing to appear on a quiz show. And she was always the one who would jump to the defense of any student she saw being ridiculed.
So it was with great sorrow and disbelief that teachers and students realized Friday that the energetic girl with the bright smile was no longer among them.
In a freak accident, the 15-year-old junior rode her bicycle into the back of a pickup truck Thursday afternoon and died of massive head injuries.
"It is like a reality check. It makes you think a lot about the meaning of life and whether, if you died today, you would regret something you should have done," said Darron Evans, a 16-year-old classmate.
But everyone agreed that Alethea hadn't wasted a minute of her 15 years. She was an academic star, ranking third among more than 400 students in her class. To accomplish that "she took the most rigorous academic classes we have at school," said William Brand, the principal.
"There was a beauty to her life. She was focused," said another of the girl's admirers, Joan Neumann, who taught an English honors class that Alethea attended last year. Neumann broke down in tears when she heard of the girl's death. Alethea was described by teachers and students as someone "always willing to give of herself."
"She was always helping people out with classes and homework," said Jennifer Kwoon, a classmate who last saw her friend at lunch Thursday.
"If someone had stopped to talk with her at the lockers, things might have been different," she mused.
On Thursday, as on every other school day afternoon, Kwok set out on her three-mile bicycle ride to Alicia Stationers, the business owned by her parents, Alan and Sherry Kwok. There she and her younger sister, Shaena, would work behind the counter.
Alethea was riding west on Los Alisos Boulevard toward Trabuco Road, about 1 1/2 miles from school, when she hit the back of a bluish-green pickup about 3:13 p.m., according to Sheriff's Department investigators.
On Friday, investigators were following leads on the whereabouts of the truck driver who left the scene. Witnesses said he got out of the truck and looked at the girl before getting behind the wheel and driving off.
Michael Sperry, a Marine who saw the commotion, stopped to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Alethea was pronounced dead on arrival at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills.
Friday afternoon a sign on the door at the stationery shop said "Closed due to emergency." The assistant manager of the party supply store next door said Alethea was an integral part of the family enterprise, pitching in to work on Saturdays as well as weekdays.
Earlier Friday, Alan Kwok was in the store briefly to clear up some business. Pilar Hoegi, a secretary at Trabuco Hills High School, said she called the shop in the morning after she heard that Alethea was involved in an accident and spoke with Alethea's father.
"I asked how she was doing and he said 'She died. She is now with God. Please pray for her,' " Hoegi said.
At school, Brand said students were thinking about what they might do in Alethea's memory. He said they had already decided to dedicate a page of the yearbook to her.
But some students seemed sorrier than others, Hoegi said. She recalled that Alethea was sometimes the target of teasing by some of the girls who made fun of her glasses, or her lack of makeup, or the black bangs that sometimes brushed over her eyes for want of cutting.
"The students who would make fun of her are now the ones who come to me crying," Hoegi said. "They are full of remorse. I tell them it is part of growing up. Don't be hard on yourself. Now you know."