UPDATE: As news spread that the worst fears of his loved ones had come true, a 25-year-old tow truck driver killed in a Lodi house fire on Monday was remembered as a good, kind person.
Ezequiel Gonzalez was "one of the real ones," said Jerry Whittaker of Hackensack, "always down to help someone out and just a genuine soul."
"Always hurts to lose such a young friend," added trainer Brian Giraldo, who owns Rawfitness H.I.T Concepts in Lodi.
A candlelight vigil was planned for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Thomas Jefferson Middle School on 1st Street.
A GoFundMe campaign for the family had raised nearly $50,000 in less than 24 hours.
"My nephew was full of life and one of the most selfless and loyal people in the world," said his aunt, Karen Gillen, who organized the fundraiser.
Monday's fire broke out in Gonzalez's second-floor bedroom in the rear of the two-family Westminster Place home shortly before 6 a.m., possibly from an incense candle, firefighters said.
It quickly went to two alarms.
Several others made it out safely, then were pushed back by flames when they went to look for Gonzalez, who friends said lived there with his mother, her fiancé and his daughter.
Later they huddled together outside, joined by neighbors and friends, hoping against hope, as the blaze was extinguished.
That hope was doused, as well, when a firefighter found Gonzalez's body in the rubble of his bedroom after part of the roof collapsed.
"An investigation revealed that the fire started on the second floor of the building and numerous occupants evacuated the residence through the front door and second floor windows," Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella said Monday afternoon.
Gonzalez "was unable to exit the structure and was found deceased," the prosecutor said. "The cause of the fire has not been determined and is under investigation."
Those grieving Gonzalez's death included Vincent Bontempo of Garfield.
"Saw a tow truck turn a corner one day a couple months ago and the dude was bumping some good music," he wrote. "I thought to myself, 'Good to see somebody enjoying what they do.'
"Ironically, that truck slowed down and the driver yelled out 'Yo, Vin' with that same happy-ass smile on his face he always had."
Bontempo called Gonzalez "a good, genuine, happy dude. Nothing but love whenever I saw [him]."
PHOTO ABOVE: RK FIRE Photography (Rob Knobloch)
REQUIESCAT IN PACE: With heavy hearts, friends, loved ones and strangers are donating food, clothing, money and more to the family of a 25-year-old tow truck driver killed in a Lodi house fire.
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