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5th Child Dies From Fumes; Father Is Facing Arrest on Murder Counts

Los Angeles

February 22, 2002|RICHARD WINTON and MANUEL GAMIZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 6-year-old girl died of her injuries Thursday, becoming the fifth sibling to perish after their father allegedly lighted a charcoal grill inside their Pico Rivera home, turning it into the family's gas chamber.

Adair Garcia, found unconscious near the grill, will be arrested on five counts of first-degree murder after he is transferred to the county jail ward early today. Garcia was taken to a Whittier hospital after Wednesday's tragedy and is in stable condition.

The father of six admitted to the killings in a videotaped conversation with investigators before being taken to the hospital, law enforcement sources said.

"There is no doubt it was his intent to kill everyone in the home," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Don Bear. "There were several portable space heaters that worked.... He was lying next to the barbecue."

Bear said there is additional evidence that will be disclosed later. He would not confirm or deny the videotaped admission.

Vanessa Garcia, after clinging to life for almost a day, died at UCLA Medical Center on Thursday morning.

Authorities described Adair Garcia, 30, as despondent over a failing marriage, but there were few outside signs of tension in the home of the large middle-class family living in a suburban neighborhood, where a daughter loved the violin and the parents seldom missed a school event.

Although friends never spotted warning signs of the tragedy to come, there were marital problems, Bear said. Tensions between Garcia and 30-year-old Adriana Arreola had ratcheted up recently and Arreola had moved out of the home 11 miles east of downtown Los Angeles a week before the tragedy, Bear said.

On Tuesday evening, the veteran investigator said, Garcia tucked his youngsters into bed and allegedly stoked the family barbecue in the living room. Among the first deputies to come upon the children's bodies in the home in the 9600 block of Washington Boulevard was a distant relative, who just days before had spent time with the youngsters, sources said.

Scott Carrier, Los Angeles County coroner's spokesman, said autopsies will determine whether the children died of carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation or another cause.

Brenda, 10, Jonathan, 7, and 2-year-old Anthony were found dead early Wednesday by their maternal grandmother, who had arrived to baby-sit. Cecilia, 4, died later Wednesday at Whittier's Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital.

Only one sibling--9-year-old Kassandra--survived. She remained hospitalized at UCLA and is expected to recover.

At the Whittier hospital, Garcia was able to talk to doctors Thursday, but said little.

"It is hard to say what his state of mind is," said Dr. Nadeem Chishti. "He is asleep most of the time and when he is awake, I see nothing on his face."

Garcia continued to be treated Thursday to flush carbon monoxide out of his system with pure oxygen, Chishti said.

Garcia's co-workers at SBC Pacific Bell's Rosemead office, where he is a splicing technician, could not reconcile the events with the man they knew.

"He was a family man and would talk about his kids all the time. We are dumbfounded as to what pushed him over the brink," said a co-worker.

Two of Garcia's co-workers were so shaken that they took the day off Thursday. Colleagues, who asked not to be named, said Garcia and his wife both worked for Pac Bell until she decided to stay home with their children.

At two schools in Montebello, students and staff members recalled the Garcia children with fondness.

"She was a special friend to me," 6-year-old Desiree Chavez said of Vanessa, her first-grade classmate. The two played handball and tag and Vanessa especially enjoyed children's songs.

Brenda's class at La Merced Intermediate School wrote goodbye letters. "She like to play 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,'" said Elaine Espinoza, 10, who took violin lessons with Brenda.

Crisis counselors were on hand at the school and nearby La Merced Elementary School, which the younger Garcias attended,

"It has been rough," said Rosa Solis, La Merced Intermediate's principal

*

Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this report.

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