Sometimes, you wonder just how low criminals can go.
One week ago today, Gabriel Houser of Modesto kissed his wife goodbye about 7 a.m., the couple sharing the joys of impending parenthood. Then he climbed aboard his motorcycle and rolled out of the driveway of their central Modesto home.
Houser's father, Darwin Houser, said his son's life had never been better. Gabe Houser, 34, was home-schooled throughout high school and went on to take courses at ITT Technical Institute before getting an internship and later a job with Intel.
"He did it over a period of several years," dad said of Gabe's education. "Just being Gabe. Nothing in a hurry. Take time. Enjoy life."
Seven years ago, Gabe became the technical services coordinator for UC Merced's Kolligian Library, which is where he was headed in typical Gabe fashion the morning of July 17.
"He was just cruising in to work," Darwin Houser said. "No hurry involved."
But Gabe made it only to Oakdale and Buhach roads in Merced County, just north of Atwater. According to the California Highway Patrol, a pickup driven by a 78-year-old Winton man pulled out directly into his path. It happened so suddenly, his dad said, that the skid marks from Gabe's 2008 Buell stretched only about 10 feet. Gabe tried to stop but was thrown from his bike -- right into the path of the pickup. He died instantly. Dora, his wife of
16 months, is five months pregnant with their first child.
"They just found each other," Darwin Houser said. "What a perfect couple. They texted each other 20 times a day or more."
Granted, there was nothing criminal about the accident, which news agencies reported online the day it happened and in print editions July 18.
No, the crime happened in the middle of the night a day or so after he died.
Friday morning, Dora went outside to find the garage open.
Gabe's other motorcycle, a 2001 red-and-black Suzuki Bandit sport bike, gone.
His tools, gone.
A refrigerator, gone.
Dora Houser called Modesto police and filed a theft report that will go on the pile atop so many others.
"I'm trying to keep enough of the things he loved for his child to see -- the things his or her dad was passionate about," she said.
Dora said that she'll eventually decide what to do with the Buell motorcycle Gabe rode the day he died. It received only minor damage.
Having his Suzuki and other belongings stolen only compounded her grief, she said.
"It's a shame people would do something like that, and at the worst time to have to deal with it," she said. "A neighbor did see an SUV (in the neighborhood that night). They had a trailer. They came ready for that bike."
Melanie Houser Pagano, Gabe's sister, cannot understand how anyone could be so cold and unfeeling as to burglarize the home of someone who has just lost so much.
"Lowlifes" is what Pa-gano calls the thieves.
It's bad enough that they would steal, period. And it's possible that they had been casing the place for many days or weeks.
Yet, Darwin Houser can't help but wonder if the thieves read about Gabe's death and took advantage.
Certainly it would not be out of character for that ilk. I've written numerous times about people who returned from a loved one's funeral only to find the family home ransacked by thugs who, in all likelihood, used the obituaries to plan their next heist.
The thieves stole things that might have black market value but were sentimental to a woman who had just lost her husband and who has a baby on the way.
You wonder how low criminals will stoop?
It's a bottomless pit.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Modesto Bee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.