The death of a man in a house fire on the 1500 block of West Vine Street on Sunday afternoon has been determined a homicide under investigation, according to the Lodi Police Department.
An autopsy by the San Joaquin County Coroner later that afternoon revealed that the man had been stabbed to death prior to the fire being started.
The Lodi Fire Department received the call close to 1:30 p.m. on Sunday as an intense blaze burned through the front window of the home. While fire crews were able to get the fire under control within 10 minutes, the interior of the home was completely destroyed.
Police are also working together with arson investigators to determine the cause and origin of the fire, while the San Joaquin County Coroner’s office is working to identify the victim and notify the next of kin, Lodi police said.
Police have not yet released the name of the victim, but the man who lived in the house was described by neighbors as a single man in his early 50s. He was described as a gregarious and friendly man, who had lived in the house for about two to three years.
“We don’t know who did this,” John Day, a son of one of the neighbors, said, obviously shaken.
Doug McPherson, another neighbor, said the man had recently had a hip replacement, but was doing well. “He was doing great, and now this happens,” he said.
The man was described as a friendly man who used to interact with neighbors, helping elderly neighbors take their trash bins out.
“He was a big personality. He tried to get to know everyone. Every time we had parties he would come over, he was a warm, talkative person,” McPherson said. “He had a very good personality. He was a great guy — he would know everyone within minutes. He acted like I was his best friend from the moment I met him.”
The news of a homicide investigation next door was startling to neighbors on this street who have always seen it has a friendly and quiet neighborhood. Just across the street from the residence is a view of the field at Lodi Middle School. Although it’s close to the school, it is a bit removed from the bustling thoroughfare of Ham Lane.
“It’s always been a very peaceful street — a lot of elderly, mostly retired people and original home owners. There have been no major incidences of crime. But you can never assume. There is no safe place,” said Amber Gomes, who also lives nearby.
This is the fifth homicide in Lodi this year. The first two of the year were shootings that took the lives of 19-year-old Silvestre Guzman Bedolla, Jr. on South Garfield Street and 27-year-old Louis Delatorre on East Oak Street in January. A third homicide in February claimed the life of 74-year-old Dorothy Wiederrich in her Woodlake Circle home. The fourth was the shooting of 30-year-old Luis Guillermo Alvarez on Main Street in early April.
Anyone with information regarding the incident on Vine Street is urged to call Detective Erika Urrea at 209-333-6885. Callers may also remain anonymous by calling the Lodi Area Crimestoppers at 209-369-2746.
Chief photographer Bea Ahbeck contributed to this report.