Local News

Tuesday, Jun 29 2010 07:02 PM

Arvin man's death could be first linked to heat this year

BY JEFF GOODMAN, Californian staff writer jgoodman@bakersfield.com

The family of an Arvin man who died of an apparent heat stroke Monday night was used to seeing him tend to the house where he collapsed.

Alfonso Zarate, 56, still owned the property where he raised his family and was doing upkeep work to prepare the home for an upcoming renter. Several family members had seen him working there that day.

Mondays were designated for family dinners, said his daughter, Venicia Diaz, so Zarate -- who owned a local Mexican restaurant -- was at home cooking fajitas and resting on the couch before returning to the Meyer Street yard on a day when temperatures climbed as high as 107 degrees.

He left that evening with a jug of water, Diaz said, but he never returned. Diaz, 32, said she believes her father died from complications stemming from the extreme heat.

"It was shocking because it just happened so suddenly," she said Tuesday afternoon.

Zarate was pronounced dead at the scene of what appears to be this year's first heat-related death in Kern County. An autopsy was completed Tuesday, but the cause of death is pending toxicology testing and microscopic studies.

Lt. Olan Armstrong of the Arvin Police Department said there was no indication of foul play and said it was "very possible" that the death is heat-related. There were no heat exposure deaths reported in the area last year, one in 2008 and two in 2007, Kern Sheriff Senior Deputy Michael Whorf said.

The Arvin Police Department received a 911 call Monday evening about a man lying in the yard on the 600 block of Meyer Street, Armstrong said.

Diaz said she received a call after 8 p.m. from a cousin who had driven by the house and told her something had happened. Zarate suffered from diabetes, she said, but was usually very careful when it came to his health.

"My mom told him to take a jug of water," Diaz said. "She told him, 'Don't go -- it's too hot.' He said he was going, so she told him to take the water and he did. All of us were complaining because it was so hot."

Zarate was born in Mexico in 1953 and came to the United States as a young adult, Diaz said. He was a farmworker in Arvin before starting the restaurant about 10 years ago.

Zarate and his wife, Margarita, shared birthdays and had recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. He enjoyed playing volleyball and sitting in the garage while listening to music.

"I know that he was happy," Diaz said. "He was quiet, but he did smile a lot. He was kind, very kind."

Zarate is survived by his wife, six children -- Diaz, Cecilia Reyes, Anaceli Torres, Daniel Alfonso Zarate, Rodrigo Zarate and Pablo Rosario Zarate -- and six grandchildren.

"We're trying to be strong for my mom," Diaz said. "She's very sad right now."

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