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‘Everyone liked him’: Family mourns man killed in RV fire

REDWOOD CITY — His family, especially his mother, pleaded with him to move into a proper bedroom.

But Rolando Garza preferred his low-key, minimalist life in the parked recreational vehicle he rented for several years from a family on Park Road in North Fair Oaks. It was a fateful decision: Early Sunday morning, fire officials say a frayed extension cord that was running power into the vehicle sparked a fire that ended with the 52-year-old San Jose native’s death.

“He just got used to being there, but it wasn’t a safe situation for living,” said sister Melissa Peralta. “But he would tell us, ‘You know, I only pay $400 rent.’ ”

Rolando Garza, 52, of Redwood City, poses in an undated photo. Garza died April 16, 2017, after his recreational vehicle caught fire in North Fair Oaks.

Garza’s parents and five siblings are left wondering if more could have been done, and put them in the unfamiliar position of laying a loved one to rest. But they’re also focusing on ensuring that his memory is preserved faithfully.

They remember the man who every Friday after finishing a week of shifts at an auto-body shop in Redwood City, would bring dinner to his father’s home nearby.

“He visited my dad and talked to him often. He got mail at his apartment,” Peralta said. “This past Friday, my dad didn’t hear from him, and so my dad called him Sunday, and called him Saturday. Then I got the call Sunday morning.”

As recently as Saturday, neighbors and friends saw Garza at a house party elsewhere in Redwood City, eating tacos and enjoying the camaraderie.

“He was one of those people you just liked being around. Everyone liked him,” his sister said. “Just always smiling.”

Garza was born and raised in San Jose, attending Overfelt High School, his family said. He worked for an area closet company for several years and worked assorted labor jobs before landing at the auto-body shop as a detailer.

He rooted for the Oakland Raiders and was usually found listening to music, and filling black folders full of hand-drawn sketches, which were found by family members rooting through his home that doubled as the site where he died.

Garza was found unresponsive early Sunday morning in the back of the burning RV, which was parked in an enclosed space bounded by fenced walls on all four sides. Rescue personnel found and rushed him to Stanford Hospital, where he died later in the day.

Usually, fire officials are tight-lipped about a fire’s cause until a formal investigation is complete. But the signs of this blaze were apparent from the outset, and they swiftly declared that a frayed extension cord was the culprit.

Peralta saw the cord herself when she rummaged through the remnants of the RV to preserve as many of her brother’s keepsakes as she could.

“I could see the cord coming from the window, right from the house to the driver-side door,” she said, almost reciting the firefighters’ accounts verbatim.

It is some comfort that the last known sighting of Garza was him at the Saturday party. And in his usual helpful spirit, the last thing he was remembered saying, both in person and through text messages, was him offering to help with cleanup.

“Just being around him, you know he was a good guy,” Peralta said.

An online fund has been set up to help Rolando Garza’s family pay for his funeral expenses. Donations can be made at