On Aug. 31, Emily Cella, a 2001 graduate of Centreville High, would have turned 20. But her life ended abruptly on Aug. 7, when a tractor-trailer on I-95 crashed into the back of her Toyota Echo.
This week, a truck driver is about to step into a Stafford County courtroom, accused of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving in connection with her death.
Also this week, her parents announce a scholarship established in her name at Mary Washington College. It will help keep her memory alive — although she'll remain an indelible part of those who knew and loved her.
"It's very heart wrenching to have someone so young and so promising taken away," said Pam Young, Emily's art teacher at Centreville High. "I think it's wonderful that her parents have set up a scholarship fund in her name."
The youngest of four children — brothers Jay, 28, of Falls Church, Steve, 25, of Sterling and married sister Daina Montgomery, 27, of Bristow — Emily was spending the summer living and working in Fredericksburg, where she attended Mary Washington.
BUT ON AUG. 6, she was in Centreville visiting a friend. "Normally, she would have spent the night at home, but she'd promised a friend that she'd pick her up in Fredericksburg and take her to Dulles Airport in the morning," said her mother Terri Cella, of Centreville's Rocky Run community.
At 2 a.m. on Aug. 7, Emily was on I-95 near Fredericksburg, when traffic slowed because of construction. "Three lanes of I-95 were blocked and going 5-10 mph," said Joe Cella, her father. "Emily was the last in line [in a row of slowed cars], and he [allegedly] came barreling into her."
Police reportedly identified the driver of the tractor-trailer as Dale Leon Kreider, 33, of 219-J Miller Road in Akron, Pa. He's scheduled to appear this Friday, Sept. 19, in Stafford County General District Court.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Emily's parents and former Centreville High teachers recalled the many things that made her so special. "She was a wonderful writer," said her mother. "She wrote poetry and stories and was on Centreville's literary magazine, Zoic."
She'd played saxophone in elementary and junior high school, but it was at Centreville that her interest in art and writing blossomed. "She was always very passionate about whatever she did," said her father.
Elaine Florimonte is the Zoic's advisor, and Emily was on the magazine's staff for four years — as writing editor in her senior year. "She was one of the most dedicated members of the staff, and she always had a big smile and a hug for you," said Florimonte. "She was a warm and genuine person, a happy girl and extremely talented."
FLORIMONTE HEARD ABOUT Emily's death from another 2000 graduate. "It was such a huge shock," she said. "Emily was a special girl. She touched a lot of lives in high school — not just students, but her teachers, as well."
She was on the honor roll and even the National Honor Society. She also did black-and-white photography and, over spring break 2001, she went with teachers Florimonte and Young on their first class trip to Europe. "It was the first AP art history class I taught," said Young. "It was a very rigorous course, and Emily was always at the top of her game."
Calling her a "brilliant, young woman," Young said, "Emily inspired me as much as I hope I inspired her. I think the trip was the highlight of high school for her because it really cemented her love for art history. We went to Italy and France for 10 days, and she was so excited seeing all the things she'd studied."
EMILY STUDIED ART history at Mary Washington and came back twice to visit Young. But her main focus at college — where she was about to begin her junior year — was sociology; she was considering possible careers as an urban planner or a psychologist.
"She loved school and was very involved with her classes," said her mother. "She loved the college." Emily took classes there this summer, and was also working at a physical-rehabilitation center in Stafford County. She handled the desk and helped with the physical therapy. She was quick and bright and they'd trained her."
EMILY TRULY LIKED helping people and was always cheerful, said Terri Cella: "She was just a joy. We enjoyed every minute we had her — we were so proud of her." Joe Cella described his daughter as a giving person, concerned about social justice. She also had a great sense of humor, he said, and was "devoted to her family and friends."
Two of her longtime friends were Robin Johnson, 20, attending West Virginia University, and Kerry Keegan, 20, of JMU. "She was one of the five people I cared about most in the world," said Johnson. "She was the most real person I ever knew. I could tell her anything, and she wouldn't judge me — she'd understand."
Keegan said she and Emily enjoyed watching movies and TV together. They helped each other with homework and talked on the phone into the wee hours of the morning. "She had so much life inside her," said Keegan. "She had an energy that made you want to be around her." Although at different colleges, all three girls still kept in touch. "I keep expecting her to call me," Keegan said.
Now Emily will help students studying social sciences through the memorial scholarship created in her honor. The scholarship amount has not yet been determined, but contributions payable to Mary Washington Foundation may be sent to: Mary Washington College, Attn: Nina Thompson, director of development, P.O. Box 1908, Fredericksburg, VA 22402. Write "Emily Cella, account No. 4-9416," on the message line or on an accompanying note.
"Emily is going to be sorely missed," said Young. "I know I, for one, will never forget her — not ever. She'll live on."