Before James A. Rodgers became Northern California's first confirmed victim of West Nile virus, the 86-year-old Acampo man spent his days like many retirees: puttering in the yard, giving sweets to neighborhood children and kibitzing with friends.
He anchored a Friday night bowling team with a 172 average. He graciously listened while young children played the piano in his living room. He tended his flowers and plants.
In the days since Rodgers' death Wednesday, his neighbors in Arbor Mobile Home Park off Highway 99 in Acampo have begun to fear for their own safety.
When word spread that Rodgers had died from complications of West Nile virus, neighbors flooded the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District with calls, forcing officials to hastily arrange a meeting Thursday night in the trailer park's clubhouse.
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Some neighbors felt slighted that mosquito control officials stuck to talking points honed during the past three years of public education campaigns about West Nile virus, rather than specifically addressing the death in their midst.
"They weren't telling any of the older people here in the park that someone died," Rodgers' neighbor Tammy Christian said after the meeting. "Let them know so they can at least put on mosquito repellent."
Connie Cassinetto, spokeswoman for the San Joaquin County West Nile Virus Task Force, said the meeting was designed to soothe public fears and let neighbors know what to expect from mosquito control officials.
San Joaquin County has confirmed three cases of human West Nile virus, she said, and the public should brace for more. "You can't say, 'I don't live by this mobile home park so I'm OK,' " she said. "It's just that's where we happened to have a fatality. (West Nile virus) is all throughout the county."
Officials are not sure whether Rodgers contracted the virus from a mosquito bite near his double-wide trailer on Brandy Circle, but neighbors have found dead scrub jays in their yards - often a calling card of the West Nile virus.
After postmortem confirmation that Rodgers died from West Nile virus, mosquito control officials made their way to the trailer park Thursday but found no large concentrations of the virus-spreading insects, Cassinetto said.
Rodgers, who spent 40 years in the U.S. Air Force as a mechanic, had lived in the park for decades near the front entrance, in a space coveted for its garage, Christian said.
Margie Gipson talked to Rodgers nearly every day from the walkway separating their double-wides. Gipson last saw Rodgers about 15 minutes before paramedics took him to the hospital the night of Aug. 6.
Rodgers was cutting weeds that morning, Gipson said, but he seemed disoriented, uncharacteristic for her strong, sharp-witted neighbor.
"I told my husband, 'Jim doesn't look right,' " said Gipson, who planted a Rose of Sharon in her backyard that Rodgers had grown for her.
Chad Christian shared a Coors Light with Rodgers earlier that day and said he seemed to be talking about events that never happened.
Rodgers' fever spiked to 104 degrees and he developed a throat infection and pneumonia in one lung, said Tammy Christian, who accompanied family members to Damron Hospital in Stockton.
Christian considered Rodgers a family member, throwing birthday parties for him, inviting him to barbecues and allowing the younger of her five children to play at his house two doors down. "I did everything I could for him because I loved him," she said. "We suffered an incredible loss."
Rodgers bowled each Friday with the Christians and another friend on a team jokingly called Who Cares.
After rolling his last frame Aug. 5 at Pacific Avenue Bowl in Stockton, Rodgers ate at Red Lobster. He was hospitalized the next night.
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