Public voice of USFS in Calif dead in apparent murder-suicide
Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ” The long-serving public voice of the U.S. Forest Service in California shot his ailing wife and himself to death, police said Tuesday.
Matt Mathes, 54, and his wife, 52-year-old Karen Pang Mathes, were found dead in their Northern California home on Saturday from gunshot wounds. The couple’s two dogs also were shot and killed, American Canyon Police Department Sgt. Craig Nickles said.
“It’s obvious that it was a homicide-suicide,” Nickles said Tuesday.
A man identifying himself as Matt Mathes called the police at about 6:15 a.m. Saturday saying his wife was sick and no longer wanted to live, Nickles said. The man, who investigators believe was indeed Mathes, said in a “matter of fact” tone that he intended to kill himself, his wife and their dogs, he said.
“They lived alone, they had no close relatives, and they probably wanted to make sure someone knew about the situation” before killing themselves, Nickles said.
A SWAT team called to the scene found the bodies of Mathes, his wife and the two dead dogs, Nickles said.
Nickles did not know the nature of Mrs. Mathes’ illness. An autopsy was performed, but its findings will not be available for some time, Nickles said.
Colleagues recalled Mathes as a principled and hardworking spokesman for the Forest Service, one with an encyclopedic knowledge of its history in the region.
They knew of no serious personal problems, they said.
Mathes had served for 29 years with the Forest Service, 17 of them in the agency’s San Francisco-area offices, said Jason Kirchner, another spokesman who shared an office with Mathes.
He was eligible to retire when he reached 55 and had 30 years in at the Forest service ” milestones that were just months away, Kirchner said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Although he occasionally talked about retirement, “he never seemed ecstatic about leaving,” Kirchner said. “He seemed to love working here every day. He was always at his best when we were in a crisis mode or there was some emerging issue.”
Mathes received a journalism degree in Florida and worked briefly as a reporter before landing a job with the Forest Service, working in Colorado and Washington, D.C., then arriving in California.
Last weekend he was midway through a two-week vacation, Kirchner said. Mathes had told Kirchner he planned to spend the break with his wife, whom he sometimes referred to as “Precious,” Kirchner said.
Mathes had been an enthusiastic and knowledgeable source for reporters throughout the region, most recently on the Lake Tahoe wildfires last summer and the Southern California fires last month.
“He was very passionate about the Forest Service as an agency,” Kirchner said. “He was one of those people who seemed to truly believe in our mission ” caring for the land and serving the people.”
After the Tahoe fire had destroyed some 3,100 acres around the lake ” 10 percent of the watershed ” Mathes was interviewed extensively by The Associated Press about recovery efforts.
“I personally can’t think of a more sensitive area that’s burned in the western United States in a long time,” he told AP on June 29. “It’s an international tourist destination and it is a relatively pristine body of water.”
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