RIVERBANK -- An 82-year-old man who was attacked with a hammer Wednesday afternoon died Thursday at a Modesto hospital. The woman he lived with is suspected of killing him, authorities said.
Joe Garcia was pronounced dead about 4 a.m., his family said, 12 hours after deputies found him lying in a pool of blood on his porch.
Stanislaus County sheriff's detectives believe Kathy Bronzini, 47, hit Garcia with a hammer in the head and face after an argument, said deputy Royjindar Singh, a sheriff's spokesman.
Bronzini was being held at Stanislaus County Jail on Thursday night without bail on charges of murder, elder abuse and violating probation. She is scheduled for arraignment this afternoon.
Singh said an autopsy Thursday showed that Garcia died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Bronzini's family, contacted by phone Thursday, declined to comment.
Singh said neighbors calling 911 reported a woman beating a man with a hammer in front of the two-bedroom house in the 3600 block of Dakota Avenue, just east of Terminal Avenue.
Singh said Thursday that detectives do not know what the argument was about or why it escalated to violence. He said Garcia spoke to sheriff's officials briefly before he lost consciousness.
Garcia's neighbors and family were left wondering why anyone would hurt a man who made friends with everyone.
On Wednesday, investigators described Garcia as Bronzini's landlord. Garcia's brother, Manuel Garcia, 80, said Thursday they shared the home.
Garcia's involvement with Bronzini started a year ago, his brother said. They met as she stood in front of a nearby store holding a "will work for food" sign.
He said his brother, who stood 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed about 90 pounds, was a lonely widower. Joe Garcia's wife died about five years ago after 45 years of marriage, leaving the World War II veteran and retiree from an Escalon cannery alone in the small house.
His family said Garcia and Bronzini agreed that she would do household chores in return for room and board.
"She washed his clothes, cleaned the house and cooked for him," Manuel Garcia said, adding that Bronzini also did some painting.
But the arrangement eventu- ally grew volatile; Bronzini left after a few weeks and returned a few months later, Garcia's fam- ily and neighbors said.
On Wednesday, investigators said, Garcia and Bronzini had their final confrontation.
Blood was splattered on the ceiling in the living room. Manuel Garcia said he thinks his brother first was attacked in the house.
Garcia's neighbor Ramon Ayon, 34, said he saw Bronzini hit Garcia over the head with a hammer three times as he lay on the ground. "I grabbed a shovel and ran toward her. I told her to leave him alone, and she ran inside the house. As soon as deputies arrived, she came outside again."
Ayon said it was surreal to see his friendly neighbor, with whom he drank coffee in the mornings, being attacked.
"It takes a while, I guess, to realize that's actually happening in front of your own eyes."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.