U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee, Burbank native mourned

Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldMarch 20, 2014 

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the friends and family of Javier Gutierrez are mourning his death.

Gutierrez, 42, died March 13 of injuries suffered in January when he tripped and hit his head while celebrating the Seattle Seahawks' win in the NFC championship game.

"He loved his kids," said his wife, Virginia Gutierrez of Burbank.

"All you have to do is look at the pictures of him holding his first daughter, his first son and his second and third sons, the love is right there," she said.

Gutierrez was a longtime employee of the Fish & Wildlife Service at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge in Burbank.

Charlie Stenvall, project leader at the refuge, said Gutierrez "was an excellent worker, a really experienced hand. He knew what he was doing and had a real feel for habitat management. He loved wildlife and wild places."

Virginia said she and her husband had been married for eight years before he shared with her how working at the refuge was a spiritual experience for him.

"He loved his job in God's nature ... taking care of God's green earth and being a caretaker of the animals," Virginia said.

He began working at the refuge in 1996, the same year Stenvall went to work there. Stenvall soon was reassigned, but when he returned a few years ago, Gutierrez greeted him as an old friend.

"That's how he was, when he was your friend you were a friend for life," Stenvall said.

Virginia agreed, saying "he loved everyone deeply the first time he met them. He had a real joy for human life."

Gutierrez grew up as a migrant field worker and worked hard to finish high school and find a good job to support his family, Virginia said.

"For him to have found a federal job that he had for almost 20 years is a testament to him as a hard worker. He made it out of that migrant lifestyle," Virginia said.

He worked his way up in the Fish & Wildlife Service, becoming one of its best heavy equipment operators.

"He was skilled at pretty much everything we have -- scraper, excavator, dozers. There's really an art to it and he had the touch. He understood intuitively how to make the equipment do what we needed done," Stenvall said.

Gutierrez was also a member of the Fish & Wildlife Services' wildland fire crew and served as an engine captain at one point, Stenvall said.

Because of his skills with heavy equipment and as a firefighter, he was often sent to help Fish & Wildlife Service crews across the nation.

"He worked in Florida, Texas, Hawaii, and cleanup after Katrina. You name it and he'd been there. either as an equipment operator or fire fighter," said Donna Scott, an administrative clerk with the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Stenvall and Scott said Gutierrez will always be remembered for his sense of humor.

"He'd make the work day go fast. He was a real character, a jokester," Scott said.

Scott, who worked with Gutierrez for six years, said he really enjoyed national parks and wanted his kids to see them.

"Their family vacations were spent hiking all over," Scott said.

In addition to his wife, Gutierrez is survived by his children -- Rosana, Nicolas, Diego and Joaquin -- his siblings and numerous relatives.

Funeral services were held March 19 with inurnment at City View Cemetery in Pasco.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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