Grieving Merced man recounts tragedy of ‘accidental’ fire

12/11/2013 9:00 PM

12/12/2013 12:03 AM

A Merced man said Wednesday he “feels very alone” after losing three members of his family in a tragic fire last week.

Gabino Perez lost his 5-year-old son, Jesus, his 5-year-old granddaughter, Geraldine, and his son-in-law, Ignacio Figueroa-Bautista, in a house fire Dec. 3 at the family’s home at 264 E. 10th St. in Merced. Firefighters said Figueroa-Bautista died trying to rescue the two children.

The 49-year-old Merced man also lost his wife, Ana, on June 6 in a car crash near Patterson. She was on her way to work when the vehicle she was riding in was involved in a collision with a big rig, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Speaking through a Spanish translator on Wednesday, Perez described his overwhelming grief after his wife died and wept while discussing the tragic fire that claimed three of his closest relatives.

“I feel very alone, and I feel very sad having lost my wife and my son and my granddaughter and my son-in-law,” he said as tears ran down his face.

Merced firefighters said Wednesday that while the cause of the fire remains under investigation, it appears “accidental.”

Perez’s daughter, 28-year-old Maricela, and his youngest granddaughter, Kaily, were hospitalized in Fresno after the fire. Maricela Perez has since been released, but Kaily remained in the intensive care unit Wednesday.

“We expect that she will be released from the hospital in the next few days,” the Perez family said in a prepared statement.

Perez described Figueroa-Bautista, who managed to save Maricela and Kaily before dying in the fire while trying to save the other children, as a good man and “a very hard worker.”

“There was just no other like him, for me,” Perez said. “Even though he was my son-in-law, it was like he was my son.”

Perez choked up again discussing his youngest son, Jesus, who went to live with Maricela and Figueroa-Bautista after Perez’s wife died in the car crash in June. Initial reports falsely indicated that Jesus and Geraldine were cousins.

“He was the best for me; a very good son, very focused – just a good little boy,” he said.

Geraldine was a bright little girl who was very attached to her parents, felt very close to the family’s church and loved her school, Perez said.

“I saw them every day,” he added.

The night of the fire, Perez said, he had dinner at their home and left about 10 p.m. Hours later somebody called him at his Merced home and told him what had happened.

The family has been receiving help from the Mexican Consulate offices in Sacramento and Fresno, consulate officials confirmed.

Douglas Gessell, a Stockton attorney, has been assisting the family since the car crash in June that claimed life of Ana Perez. Gessell’s voice cracked Wednesday and he fought back tears while discussing what’s happened to the Perez family.

“Obviously you can’t work with good people like this without having it affect you; it’s just heartbreaking,” he said.

The Mexican Consulate has established a memorial fund to help the family with funeral costs and medical expenses. Donations can be made to the Perez Family Memorial Trust Account at Bank of Stockton. For more information, call (209) 430-5480.

School officials at Don Stowell Elementary School, where the two children attended separate kindergarten classes, have also established a memorial fund to help the family pay for medical costs and the three funerals. Donations can be made to the Geraldine and Jesus Perez Memorial Fund at the Educational Employees Credit Union at 127 W. El Portal Drive in Merced or by calling (800) 538-3328.

“This family really needs help from the community,” Gessell said.

Perez said he is grateful for the support people have shown his grief-stricken family, especially as they prepare for three funerals.

“Our thoughts are that we will take them back to Mexico so they can be buried there,” he explained.

Perez said his daughter, Maricela, is recovering from her injuries and now “very focused” on helping 13-month-old Kaily.

“We just want to help her,” he said. “She just wants her daughter to get better.”

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