Two men dead in Palo Alto house fire

Relative of one of the dead said the two victims had lived in the Embarcadero Road house

Two men who were found dead after a Palo Alto house fire have been identified as Donald Schoennauer and his best friend, Ed Martin, a family member of Schoennauer said.

Both men were 64 years old and graduated from Palo Alto High School. They were lifelong friends, nephew Erik Schoennauer said.

The fire broke out on Friday night in Schoennauer's home at 988 Embarcadero Road, according to Palo Alto police and fire officials.

Fire units were dispatched to the green, one-story home at 7:17 p.m., and the announcement of the fatalities was made at 8:54 p.m.

Schoennauer's mother, Urania, 91, also lived with him and Martin, but she was at a care home recovering from a health condition at the time of the fire, Erik Schoennauer said.

Schoennauer had been his mother's caretaker for the past 25 years. He was born on Feb. 25, 1949, and the family lived in East Palo Alto until he attended high school. His parents Daryl and Urania purchased the Embarcadero Road home when Schoennauer was in high school. Daryl Schoennauer died in 1972.

Martin and Schoennauer graduated from Paly in 1967. In 1968, Schoennauer volunteered for the Marine Corps and completed boot camp at Camp Pendleton. He served in the Vietnam War between 1969 and 1970 during the Tet Offensive. In the 1st Marine Division, he was responsible for defending the Danang Air Base.

Neighbor Robert Hof told the Weekly that Schoennauer was reclusive and hardly talked with anyone. The last time Hof spoke with him was about a month ago, he said.

Another neighbor told TV news crews that he thought the veteran had been very poor health, as he also had not seen him for a long time. He said a caretaker lived in the home as well.

Hof was alerted to the fire by a girl who lives across the street. The blaze appeared to have ignited suddenly, he said, as just minutes before he had been cooking in his kitchen, which faces his neighbor's home, and all was normal.

After being alerted, he looked out of his kitchen window, and there were flames "coming out of the house. There were 20-foot flames."

One witness told the Weekly the flames stretched as high as the power lines.

Palo Alto police Lt. Zach Perron said that the bodies were found inside the home, but he would not disclose the exact locations. The cause of the fire is under investigation, he said.

The Santa Clara County Arson Task Force has been called to investigate, but Perron said the group's involvement is "routine" when there's been a residential fire resulting in deaths. The Task Force began work Sunday, after gases typically found in homes had a chance to dissipate, according to police.

According to property records, the 1,300-square-foot house was built in 1949.

Firefighters contained the blaze -- which appeared to have started in the kitchen, an initial investigation indicated -- within 10 minutes, Perron said. But Embarcadero Road remained closed to traffic between Greer and Louis roads while firefighters and police completed their work.

In his youth, Schoennauer was a competitive roller skater. He traveled the region and the nation for competitions. In 1960, he was the national champion in the juvenile division at age 11. In 1964, he placed third in the national junior division at age 15. But he stopped roller skating competitively in high school, Erik Schoennauer said.

Schoennauer's time off in Thailand and his experiences in Vietnam led to a lifelong interest in Asian culture and cuisine.

In the 1970s, he traveled to Europe and spent time with family in Italy, his nephew said.

He lived in a commune in the hills above Scotts Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains during the 1980s. He played lead guitar and Martin played bass guitar in a band, which performed regularly in clubs in the Santa Cruz area and the South Bay, his nephew said.

"They were both great musicians. Ed was a magnificent bass player. He was somebody who just loved his music. He would go into the garage and just play the guitar by himself," Erik Schoennauer recalled of Martin.

His uncle earned his pilot's license at this time, and flew aircraft out of Scotts Valley.

But his proudest achievement was becoming a charter member of the Santa Cruz-based VFW Post 5888. The post was somewhat of a maverick, and was strongly opposed to U.S. foreign policies in the 1980s.

Schoennauer also helpe to create a health clinic as part of the Vietnam Friendship Village Project. The project was a way to right some of the wrongs he felt he saw during the war, his nephew said.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by history guy
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Another victim of the Vietnam War. Read the article and learn how Schoennauer was never the same man once after her returned from that ill-conceived, tragic war. Condolences to his loved ones.

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