Lupe Exposito’s fate was sealed in the instant it took to decide which concrete path to take to safety.
Exposito, a 23-year-old microbiology major at California State University at Los Angeles, drove to the hilly Eastside campus Thursday morning from her home in San Gabriel with her sister, Rosa, 22, and parked in the subterranean level of Parking Lot C, which fills up early, particularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Accompanied by a male friend, the sisters left the parking lot and headed toward their 8 o’clock classes.
Then they felt the quake. The friend, whose identity remained undisclosed, darted away on a path that slopes up to a grassy plaza. The two sisters continued on another path alongside Parking Lot C, leading to the Physical Sciences Building.
It was, as any earthquake safety expert would have said with a grimace, a mistake.
Above the women, a slab of concrete along the upper wall of the three-story, 20-year-old parking structure was jarred loose by the force of the earthquake. It plummeted down.
The slab, estimated by workmen as weighing one ton, slammed onto Lupe Exposito, killing her. Rescuers found the body underneath the large rectangular slab, a corner of which crumbled on impact.
A deputy coroner, describing the tragedy for a campus policeman, offered the oldest cliche:
“She never knew what hit her.”
Rosa Exposito, walking a few feet away from her sister, was not hit.
“My sister, my sister is under there!” she screamed as another student led her away from the scene.
George Torres, a 19-year-old student from West Los Angeles, was walking about 50 feet behind the women when the slab fell.
“I felt the ground shake, I heard people screaming, I saw the rubble coming down,” he said. “I looked in front of me and I saw the wall collapsing around the path.”
Torres cringed to avoid seeing the slab fall on Exposito. When he looked up, he said, all he could see was part of her arm and her blue book bag. That was enough. He ran for safety.
Ruth Goldway, a university spokeswoman, described Exposito as a popular student who was studying medical technology and was just a full unit short of credits to begin her senior year.
The girl and her sister were members of a close-knit group of students studying chemistry and biology, Goldway said. Lupe worked as a student assistant and was active in the Medical Technology Club.
Goldway and other university officials walked through a bungalow serving as a command post, clutching newly printed notebooks bearing the details of the university’s eight-month-old Multihazard Emergency Plan. This was the plan’s baptism. Behind the headquarters, a new room with maps, emergency generators and special telephones stood ready for use.
For the hundreds of students on campus at the time of the earthquake, there was not merely Exposito’s death to worry about. The quake fouled wiring in one building, triggering a fire, and caused a chemical spill in another building. No one was injured in either incident, according to fire officials.
All students on campus were asked to assemble on a baseball diamond on the east side of the university until shortly before noon, when they were allowed back into the parking structures to retrieve their cars.
University officials said the 22,000-student campus will remain closed until Monday, allowing them time to inspect all structures.