Annette Lujan (HB Independent / December 14, 2011)

Annette Lujan was the kind of person who loved life, helped her neighbors and took care of her family.

When a neighbor, Teri Moore, heard Lujan was crushed to death by an elevator at Cal State Long Beach on Dec. 7, she couldn't believe it.

The tragedy left her wondering: How could you leave to work in the morning and not come back? Would an extra stop light on the way or a delay for a chat with a coworker have saved her life?

"I'm really struggling," Moore said. "I just miss her smile."

Lujan, 48, worked at Cal State Long Beach for nine years at the Office of University Research, according to the campus newspaper, the Daily 49er. The elevator crushed her as she attempted to escape while stuck between floors.

Lujan's house on a quiet Huntington Beach street where she lived for many years was empty Friday afternoon. Two bouquets of flowers were left at her door.

Moore, her next-door neighbor on the right, and, Cliff Fornwalt, her immediate neighbor to the left, said Lujan took care of her home and was proud of it.

The grass on the front lawn of Lujan's mint-green two-story home was wet, and the house stood out on Gloria Drive with a small garden, flowers and leaves near her door. A flag that read, "So many leaves, so little time," hung near her front door. An angel figurine with long, flowing wings and wavy long hair, which blew a kiss with one hand and held flowers with the other, sat on one side of the gate to her backyard.

Moore, who works from home, stood near her kitchen window near the front yard with a warm mug in her hands recalling the way Lujan would greet her when she arrived home from work.

"Hey lady," she would say loudly and with a smile, Moore said.

Moore said Lujan would lift heavy material as she went about her way to beautify her home and yard.

Fornwalt said he's upset with the comments that have been spreading about the incident, which questioned Lujan's intelligence when she let someone lift her out of the elevator. The elevator crushed Lujan as she was being lifted by a bystander.

"She was a smart lady," he said. "She wrote grants for a living."

Fornwalt said most people would try to escape if they got stuck in an elevator because when technology fails, people expect it to fail safely, not the way it happened in Lujan's situation.

Fornwalt, a medical doctor, said he feels a great deal of responsibility to help Lujan's daughter, Michelle, any way he can. Michelle lived with Lujan until she left to Northern California to attend college.

Lujan was kind to Fornwalt's mother, Mary-Jon McAvoy, who died of cancer a year ago, he said.

mona.shadia@latimes.com

Twitter: @MonaShadia