In tribute: Crash victim, volunteer remembered for smile

Crystal Sutherland was a volunteer, an employee and a Special Olympics contestant.

Courtesy photo: Debbie Barela

Crystal Sutherland, left, and her mother Debbie Barela.

Sutherland died Wednesday in an automobile accident at the intersection of Norris and Seventh streets. She was 29.

Sutherland, who was mentally challenged, worked three days a week at IHOP, assisting the dishwasher, washing floors and windows and cleaning bathrooms, according to restaurant manager Anna Davis. "When she came in she gave everybody hugs," Davis said. "She was very sweet and very thorough at her job."

She always ordered chicken strips at the end of her shift, usually forgot to clock in and loved to talk with the customers, Davis said.

"I really enjoyed working with her," Davis said. "She kept our bathrooms really clean."

Debbie Barela, Sutherland's mother, said her daughter lived in a home with several other female ENMRSH clients and loved to attend church. ENMRSH is an organization that provides support for people with disabilities.

"She loved music," Barela said. "Her favorite song was 'The Chapel of Love.'"

Sutherland also volunteered at the Lighthouse Mission for the past 10 years, according to Executive Director Richard Gomez.

"The thing I'll remember most about her is her smile," Gomez said. "She was always smiling, always happy." Gomez said Sutherland helped sort, hang and box donated clothing.

Shirley Garcia, Sutherland's personal support companion, said Sutherland participated in the Special Olympics in Carlsbad the weekend before her death.

Garcia, who has worked for ENMRSH for seven years, said "Crystal was so excited when I saw her Monday; she won two or three red ribbons and she had so much fun."

Garcia and two of her ENMRSH clients were on an outing Wednesday when Garcia's vehicle was crushed by a concrete mixer, killing Sutherland, who was a passenger in the back seat.

A tearful Garcia described Sutherland as "a breath of fresh air" and said Wednesday morning they purchased smoothies with a buy-one-get-one free coupon and were headed to Clovis Community College for manicures, when the accident occurred.

Funeral services

2 p.m. Wednesday at Westbrook Chapel in Clovis.

In Tribute is an occasional feature. To suggest an honoree, contact CNJ Presentation Editor Rick White at 763-6991 or by e-mail:

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