Nearly three weeks of investigation have led to the identification of a burn victim found on the Nojoqui Grade as Bernardo Alvarez, 48. Just after 4 a.m. on the morning of July 15, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s deputies were called in when firefighters found a body at the center of a small fire off northbound Highway 101.
After an expedited DNA testing by a Department of Justice lab, the body was linked to Alvarez, a Tarzana resident who was last seen leaving a restaurant on the evening of July 14. Though the case has not yet been ruled a homicide, members of the Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division and Los Angeles Police Department are treating it as such, for reasons that Los Angeles Detective Joel Price believes “should be obvious.”
For one, traces of accelerant were found at the scene of the fire, leading authorities to believe it was started intentionally. Alvarez was found with limited alcohol and drugs in his system, and despite being at the center of the fire, the autopsy revealed that he was dead prior to being burned. There were no clear signs of physical trauma, and the departments working on the case have not yet determined the cause of death; however, they believe it occurred in Los Angeles County.
Alvarez, who was originally from Mexico, worked at a Tarzana restaurant for 10 years and had a “stellar reputation” among his colleagues. He did not own a car, and it is unclear how his body came to be on that stretch of highway, one-and-a-half miles north of the turnoff for Highway 1. Detectives working on the case have concluded that he did have connections with local residents, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact either the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department or the Los Angeles Police Department immediately.
Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown hopes the latest slew of details will spur the memory of motorists traveling in the early morning hours of July 15, who could assist the department — working with the Homicide Division of LAPD in a joint investigation — in closing the case as soon as possible.
To report information, call the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s office at (805) 681-4100 or the Los Angeles Police Department, West Valley Homicide Division, at (818) 374-7725.