Fred Lonnberg’s father hitched him up to an equine trailer and sent him rolling from Redding to Klamath Falls, Ore., to work as an apprentice to a race horse assistant.
He learned the trade at 18 years old and plopped along the county fair circuit, first as a jockey and then as a trainer. On his way back, he bypassed his hometown and moved straight to the Bay Area, where he opened his own racing stables.
What followed were decades of dusty grins, hours of humble labor and countless heart-to-heart friendships, friends and family said.
People could depend on Fred Lonnberg.
“He had a heart of gold. He was a kind, gentle caring man that would leave nobody behind. He was there to take care of everybody that was around him,” said Curtis Lonnberg, 28, Fred’s son. “If someone didn’t have anything, he would give them whatever they needed off his back.”
Fred Lonnberg, 57, died Saturday in Los Gatos when his wife Stacy – allegedly driving while intoxicated – crashed the family’s pick-up on Highway 85, also killing her 26-year-old daughter and Fred’s stepdaughter, Tiffiny Gillette, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Fred Lonnberg’s funeral will be at 1 p.m. Monday at the Graham-Hitch Mortuary in Pleasanton, his son said. Services for Gillette are pending.
Gillette, who was from Fremont, was engaged to marry San Mateo resident Adam Simms, according to Simms.
Simms is not the father of Gillette’s son, but the two had been dating since October 2010, Simms said.
He said the two filed for a marriage license with the San Mateo County Clerk’s office and were set to wed Wednesday, which would have been Gillette’s 27th birthday.
Simms, 47, wept over the phone Thursday while he described he and his fiancé as “soul mates.” He said the two planned to eventually move to the Los Angeles area.
“She was the most beautiful girl. She glowed,” Simms said.
Stacy Lonnberg is out of custody on bail, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. She was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon in San Jose, but because of her release Wednesday around 8:30 p.m., that date has been pushed back to Jan. 30.
She had not been charged as of Thursday afternoon, but Deputy District Attorney Matthew Braker, who is prosecuting the case, says charges should be filed today. Calls to Stacy Lonnberg’s cell phone were not returned.
Stacy Lonnberg was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and manslaughter, but could be slapped with murder charges and rearrested prior to her court date as investigations continue, Braker said.
Any evidence revealing she previously had driven under the influence could bring about the murder charges, he said. When asked if she had any prior drunken driving convictions, Braker said, “I don’t know of any at this point, but our investigation is ongoing.”
Braker said Thursday he couldn’t reveal what evidence the District Attorney’s office had, adding, “We’re waiting for blood test results, other lab results.”
CHP officers who responded to the crash reported Lonnberg “really smelled like alcohol. She had a really strong odor of it,” said San Jose CHP Officer DJ Sarabia.
She told one of the officers she also had been taking painkillers and “admitted she had been drinking,” Sarabia said.
Sarabia said he wasn’t sure how fast she was driving at the time of the wreck, but investigating officers said it was above the posted 65 mph speed limit. A phone message left with one of the investigating officers was not returned as of press time.
Curtis Lonnberg said his stepmother, whom he referred to as “the woman who was driving,” has battled alcoholism for years.
“I know that her drink of choice was vodka,” he said.
Recently, friends and family have said they thought her addiction had improved, and, seemingly for the first time in his life, it was Fred Lonnberg who was turning to others for help.
“He just felt like he couldn’t do anything for her,” Curtis Lonnberg said.
Fred and Stacy Lonnberg had called Gilroy home for eight years. By the time they moved to the Garlic Capital, Fred Lonnberg had long since loosened his grasp on his full-time passion when “the economy turned against the horse racing circuits,” said his brother, 59-year-old Gregory Lonnberg.
Sixteen years ago, Fred Lonnberg took a job at UPS in Menlo Park, where he “worked hard and made his way into the delivery driver ranks,” his older brother said.
In South County, Fred Lonnberg made his mark serving as the president of the Pacific Penning and Sorting Association, headquartered in San Martin, so he could continue doing what he loved, even on a part-time, weekend basis.
“He took people under his wing. He had been around horses his all life,” Curtis Lonnberg said. “He was like a horse whisperer in my eyes.”
He had been a member of the association for six years, according to current President Ron Lowery, who described Fred Lonnberg as “an avid horseman” and “just a good guy.”
He took special interest in assisting the club’s younger, less-experienced riders, Lowery said.
“He was a very soft-spoken guy. He never wanted any friction with anyone. He was always very friendly,” Lowery said. “He worked very hard for our club.”
Editor’s note: The CHP misreported Fred Lonnberg’s age in a previous story. Fred Lonnberg was 57.