"We all knew there had to be more to the story because it had been very mild weather out in the desert that weekend. No colder than about mid-fifties in the night and eighties during the day. Not enough for someone to die from exposure"
What Happened To Jose?
When I was working at a Ford dealer in Garden Grove, California we had a program where we would bring in Ford ASSET students. ASSET students would go to Ford school for nine weeks studying a particular area of the car. Then they would go back to the dealer who sponsored them and work in that area for nine weeks. This would go on until they had covered all areas of the vehicle.
There was an ASSET student named Jose. He was a really good kid that came out of East Los Angeles. The area he was from was Bear Ave. in Bell, California. I knew the area because my wife’s grandparents lived there. By this time it was about 95% Latino and a pretty close knit community.
At the time of this incident Jose was working in the Brake and Front End department with a guy named JC (I cannot remember his last name but I couldn't pronounce it even then). JC was the team leader. JC and the team leader from Driveability (Tune-Up to all the old timers) a guy named Albert Sanchez used to hang out together and go to the desert and ride motorcycles and quads.
One weekend they were planning on going up to the desert with a guy from parts named Drew and an interior electrical tech named Dan Sobel. It was Friday and Jose had just turned 21 years old that day. JC and Albert talked Jose into going up with them. He didn’t want to and neither did his wife, but they kept insisting. So Jose went up with them.
all stopped and said, “what? What do you mean you didn’t find him? Why did you come back down without him?” He said that JC and Albert stayed up there still looking for him.” We couldn’t believe what he was saying.
Around break time Dan came back into the shop crying. He had been on the verge of busting out bawling all morning anyway and this gave him the excuse. He said they found Jose’s body. We couldn’t believe it. He said they found the body a mile from the highway out there. The very first thought that came to my mind was, "well they finally did it didn't they?" I had told both JC and Albert many, many times to stop horsing around in the shop and running cars through our indoor shop at high rates of speed. I told them countless times that once they kill someone from all their horseplay it will be too late to say I'm sorry. So yeah, my first thought was, "you bastards. I told you this would happen. But of course both of you are still here and healthy and the innocent one is dead and gone because of you. " Here was their story as incredulous as it sounds:
The five of them had been riding dune buggies, quads and motorcycles until dark and then Jose went to sleep. He has not been drinking (this was verified by the autopsy protocol which said he had no drugs or alcohol in his system) as some or all of them had been doing. They woke Jose up around midnight to go riding. So they all go on their rides and took off. Once they got way far away from camp, they stopped and all took off in a different direction. I picture the real scene as all four of them laughing and speeding away from Jose on Albert's quad as if they thought it was funny to see someone panicked and lost. Jose had no experience in riding in the desert so he tried to follow Albert. Albert was in his dune buggy and said he went over one large dune and after that lost sight of Jose who was on Albert’s quad. Albert says he felt an engine miss so he stopped to check it out and at that time realized that Jose was not right behind him and figured that Jose had followed one of the other guys.
They all met up back at the motorhome that was owned by JC and said they waited for Jose for a while, then went to sleep. They woke up and realized Jose had not come back to camp. So they began looking for him. They couldn’t find him so they contacted the rescue squad out in the desert. They flew their helicopter around and found Jose’s body a mile from the highway. They found the quad he was riding a mile back from there. It was out of gas and had a flat tire. So Albert, driving much faster than Jose could go, kept on until Jose was no longer in site rather than holding back so Jose would not get lost. And if it happened like Albert said, Jose could not have been very far away even if he had turned around (and why would he?) and sped off in the opposite direction.
We all knew there had to be more to the story because it had been very mild weather out in the desert that weekend. No colder than about mid-fifties in the night and eighties during the day. Not enough for someone to die from exposure. Plus, Albert came in a few hours later and put on a poorly acted show about how they didn’t know what happened but the coroner had told him it looked like exposure.
I knew that was a lie because Albert was not family. And they only talk to family about things like that. I know from personal experience with the San Bernardino County Coroner’s office. They won't even talk to you until you have provided legitimate ID with a picture proving that you are part of the victim's family. Plus, they had not done an autopsy as of this time so they would not have commented on cause of death anyway.
In the next day or two, we took up a collection for Jose’s wife and three year old son and collected about $2,500.00. JC and Albert put in five hundred each. We all saw that as blood money. My boss and friend Gil Stanfil drove me into Bell and took the money to his wife and gave it to her at the door of their home. It was a very sad scene as you might imagine.
A couple of days later, Jose’s family came down wanting to talk to JC and Albert. Albert was Mexican by DNA but was not very ethnic and didn’t speak that much Spanish. JC was white but was raised by a Mexican step-mother. Thus he spoke flawless Spanish. Jose’s family included his grandfather and about 15 or so other members and they were demanding to know why Jose didn’t come back alive but the rest of them did. They did this all in Spanish and told JC and Albert that maybe the family didn’t know what happened but God knew and so did Albert and JC.
The service department where we all worked didn’t close down entirely but every person in parts and service attended the funeral save for one tech who had just started and said since he didn’t know Jose, he would stay behind for emergencies. The funeral was of course very sad and like all funerals, got a lot sadder once the casket was rolled into the sanctuary. Jose’s three year old son was there as well as his wife and many family members.
JC and Albert were very quiet for the next few weeks afterward. One would go to the other’s work area and they would whisper and confer about God knows what. They were guilty alright. Of what exactly, I don’t know. But they knew a lot more than they were letting on. In the months and years after this took place, JC’ wife left him while they were on a European hiking vacation and Dan became a raging alcoholic and the last I heard of him, Albert had become an unemployed ex-technician who had gained a lot of weight from not doing anything. . I’m not saying that any of those were the result of what happened to Jose but I’d bet my bottom dollar that it did. And my beliefs mirrored those of others in the shop as well.
Among the questions I would like to see answered in this are:
• What exactly did Jose die of? The weather was too mild to have been a factor. If there had been a snake bite or something of that nature, they would surely have seen that and the autopsy would have showed that, but didn’t. My friends and I wondered at the time if he didn’t die of fright. More aptly, of something like a heart attack. I think people can get so frightened that they can die of heart failure and it could scare the toughest of men to death being out there in the pitch black, totally lost and separated from the world.
• Why did the other four leave him out in the middle of the desert by himself? Even experienced desert goers know not to go out in the desert by oneself. Especially at night time. And Jose had never even been to the desert, let alone been riding. Even in the daytime you can get severely disoriented due to the fact that the sand all looks the same. But at night time, it is many times the danger of getting totally lost. But instead of getting him out to ride and staying with him, they said they all got to a point and all scattered in different directions with Jose trying to keep up with Albert who was driving his rail built dune buggy which could outrun that quad by a lot. And Albert would have us believe that since he no longer saw Jose behind him, he assumed Jose went off in another direction, so he couldn't be bothered to even turn around and do a scout out.
• When they found the quad Jose was riding and that belonged to Albert, it was out of gas and had a flat tire. Both at the same time? I find that exceedingly coincidental. I mean how long could he have been riding the quad with a flat tire? Not long I’m thinking, and then to run out of gas at the same time? Plus we're talking about solid sand where they were riding. Fat chance of anything puncturing the tire to make it go flat.
• Jose’s body was found a mile from the highway that runs through the dunes they were camping in and around. He had been wearing a “breast plate” which is protection for people riding motorcycles and such in the desert but the breast plate had been taken off and was found some ways from his body. From the position of the body from what I understand, he was heading in the direction of the highway.
• Why did the four not go looking for him IMMEDIATELY when they returned to the camp to find he had not returned. According to Dan, they went to sleep. WHAT?!? Again, even if he had been experienced at riding in the desert, he would be considered to be in dire straits out by himself at nighttime and NO ONE would have even sat down until they had found that person.
• And why did Albert lie about the cause of death when he came back to the shop? I know for a provable fact that the coroner would not discuss the case with anyone but family and his body had just been discovered a couple of hours before Albert came down and put on the show about how distraught he was about Jose. It would take a minimum of a week to get through the autopsy with any kind of back log which they always have out there.
I know we’ll never know the answers to any of those questions, but that makes it all the more mysterious and suspicious. Jose was a really good kid. Well, since he just turned 21 years old on the day he died, he was a man. But to me and most of us in the shop, he was a kid. He certainly deserved more than what he got for his birthday. And I know I’ll take it to my grave, but I still wonder, what happened to Jose?