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Raleigh woman killed in I-85 wreck called inspirational

Posted December 28, 2011
Updated December 29, 2011

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— Friends say a Raleigh woman killed in a wreck on Interstate 85 near Greensboro on Tuesday lived to improve other people's lives.

Emerald Padilla, 24, lost control of her 2006 Infiniti on the rain-slicked highway, and the car ran off the side of the road, hit an overhead sign post and burst into flames, authorities said.

A state Highway Patrol trooper, who happened to be about 100 yards away at a gas station off the Groomtowne Road exit of southbound I-85, tried to pull Padilla from the car, but the flames were too hot.

Friends said Wednesday that Padilla was bright and bubbly but had no tolerance for social injustice. She worked for the AmeriCorps service program for two years after graduating from Campbell University, which led to her work for the Interfaith Food Shuttle in Raleigh.

"Emerald had the most energy of anyone I know. I mean, she was, like, full of energy and just vibrant," said Will Hall, a training chef with the Interfaith Food Shuttle, where Padilla helped teach low-income families how to cook nutritionally.

Food shuttle volunteer killed in fiery wreck Food shuttle volunteer killed in fiery wreck

"I know people die every day. You just wouldn't think it was her," he said. "She's so young (and had) so much going for her. She seemed really focused and driven. It was the last thing you want to hear."

Hall and co-worker Kia Baker said Padilla didn't spend much time at her desk in the nonprofit's office, choosing instead to be out in the community meeting one-on-one with parents and children.

"She was a very inspirational teacher – very motivational – with a spirit that just lit up the room," said Baker, director of food distribution for the organization. "She was a young lady with so much promise, so much leadership potential, so much to offer this community."

"She told me it made her feel good, and that would be her legacy, her lasting legacy. To have been in service -- those were her words," her mother, Maryann Padilla said.

Emerald Padilla, who was planning to pursue a master's degree in social work, will be remembered in a service at 1 p.m. Friday at Baptist Grove Church on Leesville Road.


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  • NewJerseyNative Dec 29, 2011

    I attended high school with Emerald's mother, "Mere". Mere and I managed to connect again after both moving to NC from NJ and she has always been one of the sweetest person I have even known. My heart goes out to her. I could tell by photos that her mom posted before and after this tragedy, they were very very close. However, her faith has given her strength through this. She is indeed a strong person and I will continue to keep Padilla family in my prayers.

  • Mr. D3 Dec 29, 2011

    Horrible story, I also feel bad for the Trooper who saw the accident and tried to save her. With all the criticism of the NCHP lately, I hope that this will help their image amongst those that distrust them.

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Dec 29, 2011

    Emerald...what a beautiful name so fitting for your beautiful character.
    Deepest sympathy for the family and friends of this vibrant and beautiful young lady.

  • ksh33 Dec 29, 2011

    Localyokel - maybe I missed it, but where did it say she was a "bad driver?" It didn't say she was speeding, driving reckless, texting, eating, etc. So where did your conclusion come from? Cars hydroplane all of the time. Some are able to regain control and some are not, but you can hydroplane doing 35 miles per hour. Why make assumptions, jump to conclusions and then post them where her friends and family can read? Leave condolences and be done with it. Please and thank you!

  • Desiderata Dec 29, 2011

    Heaven has another angel,,Blessings to the family and friends who will keep her in their thoughts this holiday season and beyond.

  • LocalYokel Dec 29, 2011

    A sad reminder of the consequences of bad driving. Please be careful out there.

  • Bimmers Rock Dec 29, 2011

    So sorry to hear this. My condolences to family and friends, God Bless you all. She is in heaven now doing the Lord's work, she is such a wonderful person that the Lord needed her. We have to lean on our Faith to get us through difficult times. I know we don't understand why things like this happen, but I tell myself that Jesus suffered on the cross and we are not above him so sometimes we suffer as well. May the Lord hold your hand and comfort you.

  • ksh33 Dec 29, 2011

    As I read this story, it brings to mind a young lady I lost about 3 weeks ago to a car accident. She was 29-yo doctor. While I am sad she is gone, I look at the accomplishments she achieved and lives she touched during her time here. Sounds like this young lady was the same. While the world will be void without their presence, so many lives have been enriched because of their presence. We may say they left too soon, but it sounds like they did more in these few years than some do in a lifetime. Emerald, rest from your work and tell my baby Empress I said hello! Your work is now done, it is time for us all to carry on your legacy of loving, giving, caring and teaching!

  • 007KnightRider Dec 29, 2011

    So sad. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.

  • mlong Dec 29, 2011

    My heart goes out to her and her family and friends. She sound like a real inspiration to be with and around and one who would have really made a difference in this world. I am so sorry but just think of what she will be doing in Heaven. God Bless You.