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Communities Rocked By Tragic Loss

POSTED July 20, 2010 3:24 p.m.
Four men, known for their deep and abiding friendship that spanned decades, were killed when their boat capsized in heavy surf off Point Reyes National Seashore, Wednesday, July 14 during an annual fishing excursion with a tight-knit group known as the “Oakdale Offshore Fishermen.”Coast Guard crews pulled the bodies of Henry Medrano, 62, of Riverbank, and Melvin Cox, 67, of Imboden, Arkansas (formerly of Riverbank) from the frigid water while the body of boat pilot Ronald Fuentes, 65, of Riverbank, washed ashore Thursday morning and skipper of the 24-foot yellow-hulled boat, Jack ‘Jackie’ Taylor, 62, also from Riverbank was found Friday.News of the three mens’ deaths sent currents of grief rippling into the surrounding communities as friends and family tried to make sense of the tragedy.All four were experienced fishermen and were trawling for halibut that day, doing what they loved best.Medrano had recently retired after 32 years with the Oakdale Joint Unified School District as a maintenance leader, while Cox was a retired construction worker, Fuentes a retired truck driver, and Taylor a retired welder, who worked for many years at Hogan Manufacturing in Escalon.“My dad loved fishing and hanging out with his buddies,” Frank Medrano said of his father, Henry. “He called it his rejuvenating week. This was his time to get back to his youth and have a good time. He really loved it. It’s so hard to fathom that he’s not coming back.”The group, comprised of approximately 40 residents from the Riverbank, Oakdale and Escalon communities, that took up half of the Westside Regional Park campground, had been making this annual trip to Bodega Bay for the past 20 years. Cox drove 2,800 miles each year to make the trip even though he moved away from the area to Arkansas years ago but, according to family, it’s a trip he’d never miss.The four were thicker than thieves, walking side by side with one another literally, and in spirit, throughout their lives. Medrano said it was fitting that they “went to heaven together.”“They loved doing what they did,” said Melvin Cox III of his father’s friends. “I’ll never have friends like they had.”Vicky Bates agreed, saying, “They were good ol’ boys that didn’t need a dime to be happy. Country boys.”Corey Fuentes of Oakdale, son of Ronald “Ronnie” Fuentes, added, “Not too often that you see bonds like this anymore.”One friend, Robert Rodriguez refused to leave the beach until all his friends had been recovered from the water. “Those four would’ve done the same thing for any one of them,” Fuentes said. “That’s just how they were.”The Coast Guard received the distress call from a boater around noon Wednesday who claimed to have seen a large wave batter Taylor’s boat, causing it to capsize 150 yards offshore of 10 Mile Beach.Three men were seen clinging to the boat but due to choppy seas, rescue crews were unable to reach the men immediately. By the time the men were pulled from the water, rescue crews were unable to resuscitate them.“We’re in this nightmare bubble,” Fuentes said. “We all lost more than just our dads. My father was an only child but he had a lot of brothers.”And even as the tears were flowing as stories were shared about the four friends lost, Cox said his father wouldn’t want people to grieve his death.“He’d want people to celebrate his life,” Cox said. “My dad would want people to keep going to Bodega Bay just like they always did.”Likewise, Medrano said he wanted people to remember his father as he was to those who loved him.“He was somebody you could count on. If you needed something he was there. If there was a barbecue, no one was going home hungry. In his world, if you were lucky enough to be called a friend, you were family.”Melvin Cox and Jackie Taylor were like “grumpy old men” who loved each other like brothers, Bates said.Ronnie Fuentes was a whiz with mechanics who loved racing.“He could fix anything,” Corey Fuentes said with pride.Friends also said that Jackie Taylor loved to cook — sometimes the food was really good; other times it was really bad but he never stopped trying new things.Judy Fuentes, a long-time family friend, said, tears brimming her eyes, “It gives me comfort that we have a blessing — they’re out of the water. They’re coming home. When there’s something bad there’s got to be something positive to hold onto.”Medrano’s family plans to return to Bodega Bay next year to scatter their father’s ashes, returning him to the place he loved the most. “The big thing is … he went out doing something he loved with all his friends,” Medrano said. “I’m sorry it happened to the four of them, but at least they were together in the end.”
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