Around 30 Fowler Unified School District staff members and students did their best to hold back tears Tuesday as they gathered to remember Linda Iversen-Gutierrez, a longtime Fremont Elementary School teacher who died Monday in a car crash on Highway 99.
Ailynn Martinez, a Fowler High School junior, shared her most vivid memory of the teacher she and others knew only as Mrs. Gutierrez. When Ailynn was raising money for the Fowler Lions Club during the annual Fowler Fall Festival, her former teacher was her most generous donor.
Then Iversen-Gutierrez took it one step further.
“When my mom was struggling financially during the Fowler Fall Festival, (Gutierrez) paid for my dress for the coronation,” Ailynn said.
Ailynn’s younger sister, Aleksa Madrid, also spoke about their former teacher.
“I don’t think there was any other teacher that I’ve had who has made as great an impact on my life,” Aleksa said. “She would play music for us. She would give us treats, and sometimes she would make jokes and we would laugh.”
“And that was pretty hard, because she always had a serious face,” Aleksa added, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
Iversen-Gutierrez was driving about 5 p.m. in the right lane of Highway 99 north of Clovis Avenue, just outside of Fowler, when she began to slow down for traffic. According to the California Highway Patrol, a Freightliner truck that was behind her failed to brake in time, slamming her Ford Edge onto the west shoulder of the highway and into a cement retaining wall, killing her.
A 17-year-old passenger in the Ford suffered a broken arm and was taken to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. The Freightliner’s driver and passenger were unhurt.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Axel Reyes said that Felipe Vasquez Capote, 34, of Jalisco, Mexico, was driving the Freightliner. An investigation is under way, but Reyes said it appears that Capote was at fault for the accident.
If Capote was at fault, the CHP will recommend a misdemeanor manslaughter charge to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office. Drugs and alcohol don’t appear to have been a factor in the crash, and Capote appears to have been licensed to drive in California, Reyes said.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Superintendent Eric Cederquist praised Iversen-Gutierrez for her more than three decades of commitment to Fowler Unified.
“She was a difference-maker,” he said. “Thirty-four years at one school – that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Beth Feaver, who taught alongside her friend at Fremont for 30 years, said Iversen-Gutierrez was truly committed to her teaching, friends, family and faith.
“It’s because of that faith in God that I know she had that we can stand strong today,” Feaver said. “And if Linda were here, she would simply tell us ‘Carry on – carry on.’ And that’s what we have to do today.”
Grief counselors from Fowler Unified and the Fresno County Office of Education were on hand as district officials told the news to Iversen-Gutierrez’s students.
Parents also were allowed to go to school with their children, and local clergy gathered in the auditorium to pray with any students who wanted to. The support staff will remain on campus throughout the week.
Students drew pictures and signed posters for their fallen teacher. One entry, written in blue crayon, read: “I pray that you are seeing the face of God right now.”