Gustine police: Cause unclear in blaze that killed elderly couple

GUSTINE -- Police investigating the deaths of an elderly couple believe they were killed by an accidental fire, although it will be several more weeks before final autopsy results are available.

Gustine Police Sgt. Devon Stavrowsky said investigators have ruled out foul play, saying they have no evidence that an accelerant was used to start the fire that they believe killed Gustine residents Joseph Richard Castro, 87, and Ezaltina "Tina" Castro, 84.

Merced County Sheriff's Detective Paul Barile said the victim's bodies were badly burned. As a result, only the body of Ezaltina Castro has been positively identified. Barile said investigators are awaiting the results of dental records to make a positive identification of what is believed to be the body of Joseph Richard Castro.

The victims were found dead Wednesday in their 1433 Olsen Drive home. Their two dogs also died in the fire, which was reported at 7:31 p.m. "Everybody is completely satisfied that there is nothing suspicious, that it was accidental deaths," Stavrowsky said.

Barile said preliminary autopsy results from the Merced County coroner indicate that the couple died from smoke inhalation and heat exposure.

Stavrowsky said investigators don't know how the fire started, but that it's believed to have started in the northeast corner of the couple's bedroom.

"In some fires, you go in and there is a real clear-cut ignition point, (where) it's real obvious because of the heat signature on the blaze," Stavrowsky said. "This is, unfortunately, not one of those cases, and it's going to take a lot of work for it to be determined how and where that fire got started."

Barile said investigators believe the cause of the fire may have been an electrical malfunction.

Investigators are awaiting the results of tests and other autopsy results from the Merced County coroner's office to determine how the couple died, Stavrowsky said. He said those results probably will not be available for about six to eight weeks.