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‘She had the biggest smile’: Friends, family remember Paso teen killed in Hwy. 101 crash

When people think of Emilee Ruiz, the first things that come to mind are her dimples and laughter.

The 17-year-old Paso Robles girl was killed on Tuesday night after she was struck by a car while walking on the shoulder of northbound Highway 101 near Las Tablas Road, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Emilee apparently stepped into the No. 2 lane of the freeway at about 10:50 p.m., directly in front of a 2010 Chevrolet Impala, according to the CHP.

The CHP doesn’t typically release the identity of juvenile crash victims. Pat Seebart, a spokesman for the Templeton CHP office, confirmed Emilee’s identity to The Tribune.

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Friends have set up a memorial to Emilee Ruiz, a 17-year-old from Paso Robles who was hit by a car and killed near the northbound Highway 101 Las Tablas on-ramp on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Investigators are still trying to determine what prompted Ruiz to walk along the freeway and step into the path of an oncoming car, Seebart said.

‘She was so full of life’

Emilee’s family and close friends said they’ll always remember her smile, infectious laugh and free spirit.

On Friday, flowers, balloons, photos and a small cross marked a memorial honoring Emilee just off Highway 101 near the crash site.

Her mother, Amanda Ruiz, visited the spot that morning, crying and hugging a friend as she remembered her daughter.

“She had the biggest smile and the biggest dimples,” Ruiz said in a phone interview later in the day. “She was so full of life.”

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Friends have set up a memorial to Emilee Ruiz, a 17-year-old from Paso Robles who was hit by a car and killed near the northbound Highway 101 Las Tablas on-ramp on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Emilee was one of eight children, and was the family’s first daughter, Ruiz said. She was a senior at Liberty High School and was preparing to graduate this year, she said.

Ruiz described Emilee as an adventurous teenager, remembering a time when she convinced friends to take an impromptu road trip to Los Angeles, just for fun.

Nate Maas, principal of Liberty High School, called Emilee’s death “a hard loss” for the campus. Emilee began taking classes at Paso Robles High School but later transferred to Liberty, he said.

“She was a really well-liked student here,” he said. “She was a really outgoing and friendly person.”

Reina Gonzalez, 19, grew up being close friends with Emilee and her family — the two attended Georgia Brown Elementary and Flamson Middle schools together.

“She doesn’t have one mean bone in her body,” Gonzalez said. “She was always so happy.”

Emilee had plans to become a firefighter or an emergency medical technician once she graduated from high school, Gonzalez said.

“She was always laughing,” Gonzalez said. “Her laugh was so contagious.”

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Amanda Ruiz, in yellow, hugs family friend Sylvia Rodriguez at a memorial for Amanda’s daughter, Emilee, a 17-year-old from Paso Robles who was hit by a car and killed near the northbound Highway 101 Las Tablas on-ramp on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com
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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.
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