Dead Man at Greenwood Bridge

by Bruce Anderson, July 15, 2009

The young man was dead on the trail near the Greenwood Bridge, the dusty path locals walk to get to the swimming holes on the summer time Navarro. The dead man had been shot, and now he was lying there in blue jeans, a tee shirt and a green camo jacket, the uniform of the Mexican pot grower.

The dead man was found Saturday morning about seven by a local man, also young and Hispanic, who says he was out walking his dog when he found the body.

The local man does not want his name in the paper. You find a man about your own age shot dead anywhere in Mendocino County this time of year, and you talk about it, you might be found shot dead, too.

The young local man who found the body near the Greenwood Bridge drove to Deputy Squires' house in Boonville to tell the deputy about the dead man on the dusty trail to the river, the same dusty trail you can see from the bridge, the same dusty trail the young families of Anderson Valley walk every summer to get to the warm, lazy flow of the Navarro.

Deputy Squires is an old fashioned neighborhood cop. Local people like him and they trust him. They will go to his home to see him when there's trouble. Deputy Squires is never off duty. If round the clock availability for almost 40 years bothers him, Deputy Squires doesn't say it does. The deputy will tell you that Anderson Valley has changed, that there are addresses he won't visit without back-up. And every dope season someone is found dead in a place where murder used to be unknown.

The deputy assumed he would find a dope killing at the bridge.

The deputy and the young man who'd come to the deputy's house with the bad news drove to the Greenwood Bridge where they walked about fifty feet into the woods to where the trail begins to drop down to the river. The dead man was lying on his back with a shotgun blast beneath his chin, his throat and face spackled with birdshot. It was the body of a young man. His name was tattooed three times laterally across his chest. In big flowing indelible script the three tattoos identified the dead man as “Aguilar Aguilar Aguilar.”

Aguilar Aguilar Aguilar was soon more fully identified as Salvadore Alfonso “Chava” Aguilar, age 20, of Fort Bragg.

And Yorkville.

Fish Rock Road, Yorkville.

Salvador Aguilar had been working in a marijuana garden off Fish Rock Road, deep Fish Rock, in a wild draw annually inhabited by marijuana farmers.

Detectives with the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department soon received a call from a Texas woman who said she was the late Mr. Aguilar's sister. She said the Fort Bragg Aguilars had called her home in Texas to tell her that her brother had killed himself and that they had left his body in a state park near Fort Bragg because they are illegal and were afraid to go to the police with the news of their tragedy.

By that time the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department had taken possession of Mr. Aguilar's remains. The police knew who he was, and they knew the state park where he'd been found was the Hendy Woods State Park near Philo. A distraught woman living in Texas would not know Philo from Fort Bragg. All she knew her brother was dead and that he had lived in Fort Bragg and now his body was in a state park somewhere in Mendocino County, and Fort Bragg was the only place she knew about in Mendocino County.

Detective Riboli of the Sheriff's Department soon found the Fort Bragg Aguilars, and by Sunday morning Riboli knew who had been with the despondent young man when he died, and Riboli knew all about why and how the young man had died, and he knew where the young man had died, and the detective knew all about the shifting geography of the death, how Fish Rock Road and Fort Bragg had finally become the Greenwood Road Bridge.

Salvadore Alfonso Chava Aguilar, 20, had suffered the worst week of his young life, the last week of his young life. He made his worst week worse by smoking crank at his job site in the marijuana wilderness of Fish Rock Road after he'd visited the Anderson Valley Health Center where he thought he'd been told he had AIDS. He'd visited the young woman he loved and she'd told him she didn't want to see him anymore, that she didn't love him. Two knockout punches, with the third and final punch coming right up.

Back at the Fish Rock pot garden, young Salvador Aguilar felt more alone than he'd ever felt, and feeling doomed he smoked his crank and counted his losses, his math coming up minus-2, AIDS and the lost love of his life.

So Salvadore Alfonso Chava Aguilar climbed into his sleeping bag with his sawed-off 12-gage shotgun, the weapon of choice among Mexican pot growers, placed the barrel of the gun under his chin and pulled the trigger. Salvadore Alfonso Chava Aguilar was gone from this world.

He didn't have AIDS, as it turned out. Someone, maybe him, had misread test results. But the love of his life did not love him back. There was no misreading that one. Salvadore Aguilar's losses were only half bad, but it was too late for recalculations, and crank can only make you feel good for a little while, and then you feel as bad as it's possible to feel and you get into your sleeping bag with your gun.

When Salvadore Aguilar's family and friends heard the gunshot and found Salvadore dead in his sleeping bag, well, Salvadore's survivors had three big dilemmas: a dead man, a pot garden, and their own citizenship status.

There was panic, and frantic consultations, but everyone agreed on one thing: Salvadore had taken his own life, and sad as it was, and much as they'd loved Salvadore, they could not have the policia knowing who they were and what they were doing on Fish Rock Road.

The Fish Rock pot farmers carried Salvadore out of the hidden gully where he'd died, packed him up the steep incline in his last sleeping bag to the seldom traveled road where they pulled Salvadore from the sleeping bag and wrapped him in a tent and put him in their car and drove him to the Elk end of the Greenwood Bridge where they dragged Salvadore fifty feet down the trail and left him, apparently thinking they were in a place as wild and as remote as Fish Rock Road.

Adios, Salvadore, mi amigo.

When Detective Riboli and his support team of investigators talked to the Aguilars, and talked separately with the late Salvadore's fellow Fish Rock pot growers, they all told the same story, and the story was that Salvadore had shot himself. All the stories were the same, right down to the last detail.

“All the Aguilars cooperated fully,” a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department said. “They took us to the garden on Fish Rock Road, showed us step-by-step how they carried him out, gave us the shotgun he killed himself with. We pulled up the hundred or so marijuana plants and left. We're pretty sure it's a suicide.”

The investigation continues, but it looks like case closed, a sad young man who thought his life was over when it was only beginning.

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