Father of dead Marine won't be charged with setting fire to van
By Ken Kaye
Edgar Sandoval and Thomas Monnay Staff Writers
Hollywood · Carlos Arredondo cried through the night on Wednesday. Then he cried through much of Thursday.
His tears weren't so much the result of second-degree burns he suffered while torching a military van in a fit of anguish, but rather the agony of learning that his son had died in Iraq, family members said.
"He can't stop," his wife, Melida Arredondo, 39, said after visiting him at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. "He is grieving appropriately, as opposed to inappropriately, like he did yesterday."
Doctors upgraded Arredondo's condition on Thursday, saying he was burned over 26 percent of his body, not 50 percent as first reported, mostly on his legs and left side of his body.
But, family members said his spirit, not his flesh, is suffering most, and Arredondo finally turned to a priest and a counselor to ease his misery. His son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, of Randolph, Mass., 20, was shot to death in combat near Najaf, Iraq, on Tuesday.
Saying they understand his pain, Hollywood police and the U.S. Marine Corps on Thursday said they would not seek any criminal or federal charges against Arredondo for destroying a 2004, nine-seat Chevrolet van, worth about $14,000-$16,000.
"It would be insensitive for any law enforcement agency to do so, given the totality of the incident," said Hollywood police spokesman Capt. Tony Rode.
"That's out of compassion for the circumstances and sensitivity toward the family," said Marine Maj. Scott Mack. "However, this does not set a precedent for how we deal with destruction of government property. This is truly isolated to this incident and the terrible news Mr. Arredondo had to face."
Friends and family said they know Carlos Arredondo, a self-employed handyman, to be charismatic and outgoing. He spent several years as a popular bullfighter in his native Costa Rica, nicknamed El Gringo, because of his light features, said family friend Hahiling Jobson, of Boston.
Carlos Arredondo was proud of his son for becoming a Marine and fighting for his country. But he also was looking forward to spending time with his son, once he returned from Iraq, friends said.
His son, who had lived near Boston, eventually was looking forward to going to college, getting married and having children.
"He was the kind who could have done anything upon graduation," said Paul McDonald, a former teacher at Blue Hills Regional Technical School, in Canton, Mass., where Alexander Arredondo graduated in 2002.
The funeral will be held in Norwood, Mass., where Alexander Arredondo grew up, in about two weeks, after the government releases the body.
On Wednesday afternoon, three Marines, Gunnery Sgt. Syrill Melvin, Staff Sgt. Abraham Negrón and 1st Sgt. Timothy Shipman, were given the grim task of notifying Carlos Arredondo that his son was dead.
Arredondo went to his garage, picked up a propane tank, a can of gasoline and a blowtorch. Despite initial attempts to stop him, he smashed the van's window, got inside and set it ablaze, police said. In the process, he was set on fire as well.
The Marines, based in Hialeah, said they pulled Arredondo from the van and patted him down to put out the blaze.
Mack, the Marine major, said the three did not try to stop his attack on the vehicle because they were convinced he was not trying to hurt himself.
He said they also stayed clear to avoid serious injury. In doing so, they likely prevented Arredondo from hurting himself even worse.
"In a tackle scenario, there would have been a lot more gasoline involved on the individual, and we would have had two or three people in the hospital," he said. "My senior Marine on the scene made the decision not to intercede, and that was the absolute correct decision."
Mack said Arredondo ended up suffering burns because the gasoline accidentally spilled on him as he splashed the fuel on the van parked in front of his house in the 5400 block of Tyler Street.
In trying to explain the outburst, Melida Arredondo, Alexander's stepmother, said her husband was filled with such grief that he simply went into a rampage.
Jobson, the family friend, said, "Carlos has always been very hyper. He is also the kindest person you can ever meet."
The Marines might have helped set off Arredondo because "the presence of other men in uniform dis-inhibited him," said Diann Dee Michael, a Plantation psychologist. "It created a sense of the immediacy of the loss."
His rage seemed to be an isolated case because most people are stunned by bad news and "don't act out immediately,'' she said.
"But different people react differently. It is typical for men to act more physically and compulsively because they have more trouble expressing grief through talking," Michael said. "The loss of a child is something people have the most difficulty reacting to because it's not the natural order of things."
Despite Carlos Arredondo's plight, family members spent Thursday remembering his son.
Alexander's mother, Victoria Foley, of Bangor, Maine, said her son knew at age 16 that he wanted to be a Marine because "he wanted a challenge," and because his grandfather was a Marine.
He joined shortly after graduating from a technical school in Canton, Mass., in 2002. He was assigned to the 1st Marine Division based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Alexander Arredondo served in Iraq for nine months until August 2003, and was called back to duty in May. Foley said her son was happy to return, believing in the cause of freedom. She spoke to him 12 hours before his death.
"He said I love you. I'll be home sooner than you think," she said.
Arredondo's girlfriend, Sheila Beverley, 17, of California, said he knew that soldiers risk dying on the battlefield.
"Before he left, he said: `Sheila, you should know that I can die, but I'm prepared to do it," Beverley said. "It's hard, but I accept it because he told me multiple times that he loved his job."
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