Two dead in Palo Alto house fire are identified

Palo Alto High School graduates were best friends for life

Two men who were found dead after a Palo Alto house fire have been identified as Donald Schoennauer and his best friend, Ed Martin, a family member of Schoennauer said. Both were 64 years old.

Lifelong buddies who graduated from Palo Alto High School, they spent years together performing in a rock band, and when Schoennauer became ill, Martin became his dedicated caretaker, nephew Erik Schoennauer said.

The best friends died on Friday evening, Jan. 10, after a fire broke out in Schoennauer's home at 988 Embarcadero Road, according to Palo Alto police and fire officials.

Fire units were dispatched to the green, one-story home at 7:17 p.m., and the announcement of the fatalities was made at 8:54 p.m. According to property records, the 1,300-square-foot house was built in 1949.

Firefighters contained the blaze -- which appeared to have started in the kitchen, an initial investigation indicated -- within 10 minutes, police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said. But Embarcadero Road remained closed to traffic between Greer and Louis roads while firefighters and police completed their work.

Firefighters struggled with a heavy fire load within the home, Palo Alto Battalion Chief Niles Broussard said.

Schoennauer's mother, Urania, 91, also lived in the residence, but she was at a care home recovering from a health condition at the time of the fire, Erik Schoennauer said.

Donald Schoennauer, a Vietnam veteran, had been his mother's primary caretaker for the past 25 years. He has significant physical and mental health conditions as a result of the war, which worsened in the past five years, his nephew said.

"He had the side effects of Agent Orange and a liver condition from Hepatitis C, which he contracted there. His mental health issues were what we would more commonly refer to today as PTSD," he said.

Schoennauer had trouble walking. "He could walk, but it was a struggle to get up, and a struggle to slowly shuffle to walk. Since it was a struggle to move, obviously, it was a struggle to get out in a fire," he said.

"He was a very caring person. In his war experiences, he saw the worst that can come out of people. It influenced him to be more compassionate and to be the counterbalance to everything he saw there," his nephew said.

Schoennauer was a great caretaker to his mother, he added.

"He would do anything for you," his nephew said.

Schoennauer was born on Feb. 25, 1949, and the family lived in East Palo Alto until he attended high school. His parents, Daryl and Urania, purchased the Embarcadero Road home when Schoennauer was in high school.

He and Martin graduated from Paly in 1967, and in 1968, Schoennauer volunteered for the Marine Corps. He completed boot camp at Camp Pendleton, then he served in the Vietnam War between 1969 and 1970 during the Tet Offensive. In the 1st Marine Division, he was responsible for defending the Da Nang Air Base.

"He was a maverick kid of the 60s. His political thinking and lifestyle emanated from his war experiences. They guided everything he did," he said.

Schoennauer became a charter member of the Santa Cruz-based VFW Post 5888, which was strongly opposed to U.S. foreign policies in the 1980s. He was proudest of his contributions to create a health clinic as part of the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA.

His time on leave in Thailand during the war and his experiences in Vietnam led to a lifelong interest in Asian culture and cuisine. In the 1970s, he traveled to Europe and spent time with family in Italy. In the 1908s, he lived in a commune in the hills above Scotts Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He played bass guitar and Martin played lead in a band, which performed regularly in Santa Cruz area and the South Bay clubs, his nephew said.

"They were both great musicians. Ed was a magnificent player. He was somebody who just loved his music. He would go into the garage and just play the guitar by himself," Erik Schoennauer recalled.

Martin's mother is believed to live in Missouri. He had a brother and a sister; the sister lived in Arizona, but she is thought to be deceased, Erik Schoennauer said.

Firefighters believe the blaze began in the kitchen. The Santa Clara County Arson Task Force is investigating the cause jointly with Palo Alto police and fire departments, Perron said on Friday. But the arson team's involvement is routine after fire-related deaths, and it does not indicate there was any arson involved, he said.

Neighbor Robert Hof said he was alerted to the blaze by a girl who lives across the street. The fire appeared to have ignited suddenly, he said, as just minutes before he had been cooking in his kitchen, which faces his neighbor's home, and all was normal.

After being alerted, he looked out of his kitchen window, and there were flames "coming out of the house. There were 20-foot flames."

One witness told the Weekly the flames stretched as high as the power lines.

Hof said that Schoennauer kept to himself. The last time he saw him was a month ago.

Martin had "an incredible intellect. He was very knowledgeable about current affairs. Ed was always a buddy. They were close forever -- since high school," he said.

Donald Schoennauer was very well read. He was an avid reader of history and foreign policy, and he watched every movie ever made, his nephew said.

In his youth, Schoennauer was a competitive roller skater, and he traveled the region and the nation. In 1960, he was the national champion in the juvenile division at age 11. In 1964, he placed third in the national junior division at age 15. But he stopped roller skating competitively in high school, his nephew said.

While living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he earned his pilot's license and flew aircraft out of Scotts Valley. In the 1990s, he earned a physician's assistant degree from Foothill College. He moved in with his mother and became her primary caregiver.

Martin moved in and helped with his day-to-day needs after Schoennauer's condition worsened. The Palo Alto VA Home Health Care program also frequently visited the home.

Schoennauer is survived by his mother, Urania, brother Gary, nephew Eric, and two grandnieces, Kennedy and Landry, and he was particularly proud of the girls. His father, Daryl, died in 1972. Schoennauer was previously married to Elizabeth for 10 years. The couple had no children.

Services are pending, but are likely to be private in keeping with Schoennauer's nature, his nephew said.


Posted by palo alto residen, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:41 am

Thank you to the first responders who battled this horrific fire that took two lives this evening. I have enormous respect for how you risk your lives everyday to keep our city safe. My condolences go out to those men and women who fought this fire and to the family of those who died.

Posted by Sgt Stubby, a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2014 at 2:07 am

I hope it wasn't a car-charger friend wanted to get a BMW idrive, but balked at the waiver they wanted that basically said they aren't liable if your house burns down

Posted by Robert Hof, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:20 am

Not clear what caused the fire, but it wasn't a car charger.

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2014 at 8:00 am

Not sure how this "car charger" rumor got started, but the police press release says the fire appeared to originate in the kitchen.

Posted by heard the sirens, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2014 at 8:55 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2014 at 8:59 am

Such a shame -home belonged to a wonderful family
Resident kept to himself but was a very caring person who was not very mobile
Thanks to team fighting the fire -houses are so close here lucky it did not spread
Condolences to the family

Posted by Katie, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 11, 2014 at 10:31 am

Thank you to all the amazing men and women of the Palo Alto Fire Department! They did and always do, a wonderful job! I am so happy that they were there to not let the fire speed to any other homes. Great job PAFD!

Posted by I have a question, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 11, 2014 at 11:06 am

Seems odd that with a fire station only blocks away these folks didn't have a chance. I hope that down the road when all the facts are known this tragedy makes some sense as best it can and provides clear reasons why their lives were lost without the opportunity to get out.

It doesn't comfort one to know that this can happen a stones throw from a fire station.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2014 at 11:46 am

My condolences to the victim's families on this terrible tragedy. A very small one story house, fire station right down the street, and very sudden high flames might indicate a terrible accident or something deliberate. Thanks to the Palo Alto Fire Department, their hard work and quick response. Is it strange that no one seems to know who lived there or what they did, or is this just not being reported until identification is confirmed?

Posted by Called it in, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:08 pm

The roof did not collapse--the flames were shooting out of the kitchen window when we saw it. The firefighters did cut some wholes in it to get through. The house is older, but solidly built. Mostly stucco. Most of the exterior's still intact--we heard the windows explode, but not much else. I guess there was a lot of fuel inside.

The fire department did respond fast, as did ambulances. I know, as I was on the phone with the dispatcher the entire time--it really was just a few minutes. Five maybe. Whatever happened with the fire, happened very fast since we'd been in the kitchen ten minutes earlier and have both a glass window and door that looked out on it. (And we were in the kitchen for a good 45 minutes)

It's possible both passed out from gas or smoke inhalation. I'm sure we'll hear.

Posted by Called it in, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm


Neighbor is right--the owner kept to himself and had long-term health problems. We knew who he was, but just didn't see him. Never had any problems with him. It had been his parents' house.

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm

How sad that we lost a Vietnam veteran in this manner. He already risked his life for us, and probably had issues due to the war. I hope he has peace and happiness in Heaven.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Very sad.
I was traveling north on Middlefield at Oregon Expressway when I heard sirens behind me. I immediately signaled and drove to the right, the drivers in front of me would NOT move out of the way for the two fire trucks. They were stuck trying to get around these drivers. I estimate 12-15 cars in both the left and right lanes in front of me.

Please, people pay more attention, I know all of you see this all too often, sirens and people not pulling immediately to the right side.

I am NOT at all saying that these drivers caused "such a delay" and this was the tragic results, I am just trying to get it out there that I wish people would look around, these sirens were loud, there was no excuse for the drivers in front of me to not hear them, and ALL be on the right side so the fire trucks could more easily get through.

Posted by EPAmom, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Thanks to the firemen and first responders for your service and efforts. My condolences go out to the family and friends of the victims.

This horrific incident reminded me of the importance of establishing our family's own fire safety/ escape plan. We talked with our children today. Please consider doing the same for your family, if you haven't already.

Posted by 50 plus years in Palo Alto, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 11, 2014 at 8:58 pm

I have a Question.
"Seems odd that with a fire station only blocks away these folks didn't have a chance. I hope that down the road when all the facts are known this tragedy makes some sense as best it can and provides clear reasons why their lives were lost without the opportunity to get out.

It doesn't comfort one to know that this can happen a stones throw from a fire station."

Not really. The guide lines for modern firefighters is that two can go in when there is at least two more firefighters outside. It is much safer to leave people inside longer waiting for the second fire truck. You must not expect highly paid, brave, trained, equipped with protective clothing and air packs professionals to take the same risk you do if you have a fire. We should be proud of the brave firefighters that wait until it is safe for them while people are inside. This is a national standard and not Palo Alto standard. I also have fought fires.

Posted by 50 years, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2014 at 9:15 pm

If you're going to make a comment like that then know what the actual law is. Firefighters can enter a house without having two outside if there is a known rescue. So you are incorrect. This is a national standard and set up for a reason. But you better believe that all firefighters will risk their life to save yours if they know you are in there. I doubt you have fought fires because you would know that if you have.

Posted by 50 plus years in Palo Alto, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 11, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Yes I have fought fires and I have seen this happin. Yes I know why the guidlines were made. So we can disagree but it willnot chanced what I did long ago or what I have seen since. I will admit that as an unpaid firefighter we are a different group.

Posted by PA High School, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Don Shanehauer and Ed Martin graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1967. They were life-long friends. Started a pot growing business in the Santa Cruz hills in the 70's and did well for themselves. Retired in the 80's and eventually moved into Don's mother's home on Embarcardero. They were good-humored and energetic as young men and became gentle but very reclusive old souls whose lives were eventually worn down by drug and alcohol abuse. Having lived their lives together, there's some mercy in the fact that they died together.
RIP, my old friends.

Posted by PA Noir, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2014 at 9:45 am

I realize it's California and pot might as well be legal, but I find it a little strange that you'd throw in that "they had a pot growing business" into an otherwise heartfelt post.

Posted by Condolences, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 10:59 am

About 20years ago we were living an an older rental near there, and I was home bound a lot with health problems. One day my spouse came home after work and took me for a walk - as we walked around the block, we kept smelling gas. We finally realized it was coming from our house! To make a long story short, Somehow the old heater had malfunctioned, the pilot light had gone out, and there was gas spewing out the flu all day! I didnt really smell it so much in the house because it was going up the flu, but luckily nothing ignited it. There but for the grace of God go I, as they say.

How awful for everyone. Thanks to our firefighters for their rapid response. Condolences to the neighbors and family.

Posted by Called it in, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 12, 2014 at 11:48 am

50 plus,

There were numerous firefighters from the get-go. They did not hold off looking for people inside the house. Keep in mind, that the picture you see takes place after the firefighters were already combating the fire. When we called the flame from the window was more than 15 feet high. Whatever happened, happened fast. Like Condolences, I also wonder if there was a leak of some kind.

Posted by Truly Horrible, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2014 at 4:06 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Lots of second guessing, rumor mongering, and scare tactics here.

It is likely that we will be told more at a later stage about the specifics of this fire.

However, it seems that the house was stuffed to the brim with old stuff that became fuel as srt oon as the fire started. This should be a warning to those of us who tend to hoard old stuff, papers, to the extent that egress can be hampered as well as entrance for firefighters.

From what I have been lead to believe, when people die in a fire they generally are overcome by the smoke and fall unconscious before the fire reaches them, even if the fire starts in the same room.

The fact that this house was so close to a firestation and there were still deaths shows several possibilities, but speculations are only that at this stage.

I look forward to finding out more as to why these two people were not able to survive. I have my own questions, but will not voice them now.

Posted by Joetta McFadden-Murrieta, a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Prayers for them both - and to their family and friends who loved them and are missing them right now. XoXo

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

The police have spent a TON of time and manpower investigating this fire. There were perhaps 10 police cars parked out there for much of the weekend, in addition to the investigation van, etc. I'm guessing this is easily $50K-100K in overtime. Either it is a crime scene or they are vastly over-working a simple house fire. It's important to do a thorough job but it is very inefficient and bad police practices to have too many people working a crime scene, as it leads to inconsistencies and mistakes that can be exploited by criminal defense attorneys.

Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2014 at 10:58 am

Dear Neighbor of Triple L,

It's also a bad practice to express such definitive opinions of circumstances that you likely know little or nothing about.

Posted by Friend, a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2014 at 11:13 am

To the Schoenauer and Martin families I am so sorry for your loss. I am an old friend of both Ed and Don and hope to hear about any funeral or memorial services for my friends. RIP Don and Ed.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 11:27 am

> Either it is a crime scene or they are vastly over-working a simple house fire.

That's what I was thinking. The rapidity, almost explosiveness, of the blaze, so fast that two people could not exit such a small house, and the fact that they would not go into the house the next day because of toxic fumes causes me to wonder [portion removed.] It's natural to wonder, but speculation does not prove anything.

Posted by Sean, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2014 at 1:12 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Called it in, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

There was no violent explosion.

Thank you Weekly for the information about the victims and their families.

Thank you PA fire and police departments for the work you did. Power lines, dried-out brush, dry trees and drought conditions meant several homes were at risk. Your quick response meant that didn't happen.

Posted by randy, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm


I drove by and did not see the 10 Palo Alto Police cars. Did you miss the part about the Joint Arson Task Force in the article? Perhaps it was them. Would you rather they spend money and do a good investigation or not? Pretty sure you would be on here criticizing them for that if the investigation was lacking. Also pretty sure it is a crime scene until "foul play" can be ruled out. You should listen to Phil.

Posted by hello, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

residents of house were not very mobile - thats why they could not rush out, regardless of what was in their path etc. (sadly the Vietnam War took its toll on one) Give them a break - stop speculating, point is 2 lives lost, heart break to a long time PA family -

Posted by Bryan Hebden, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm

I attended Paly with both of these guys and offer my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families of Donald and Ed.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 13, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Too many officers at a crime scene negatively, not positively, affects an investigation. A well worn example was the OJ Simpson case in which the defense was able to exploit inconsistencies amongst officers. Police procedures manuals and training confirm. Keep the investigation team small and focused, not large and dispersed.

Posted by Erik Schoennauer, a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2014 at 7:36 pm

I am Don's nephew. Our family thanks those of you who have expressed your sympathies.

We are further saddened by those of you who have posted negative and anonymous posts. Suggestions of criminal activity are wrong. Authorities have determined that the fire started in the corner of the kitchen where the coffee pot and toaster were located.

And, second guessing the fine men and women of the Pslo Alto Police and Fire Departments is wrong. They have been kind, thorough and professional with our family. If your family is ever killed in an accident, I'm sure you would appreciate the authorities expending the resources necessary to determine the facts of what happened.

If you want to be critical, have the guts to use your real name.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Mr. Schoennauer, I am so sorry for your loss. I know how incredibly fast fires can burn, and how quickly smoke takes over. I lost a dear community member recently to a house fire, and his loved ones are still trying to come to terms.

We heard the sirens and smelled the smoke, as we were in the neighborhood. Our hope had been that everyone made it out safely.

I think that some important lessons to take away from this: have fire extinguishers on hand, and try to remember how incredibly fast and deadly fire and smoke are.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 11:57 pm

[Portion removed.] Thanks for the information about where the fire started. Having heated up a pan with some cooking oil beyond the smoke point a few times I know that cooking oil can be almost explosive and might cause a fire as well. From the description it sure sounded like the fire spread and expanded very quickly and burned very hot.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 14, 2014 at 12:15 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Lee Sherry, a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2014 at 9:56 am

[Portion removed.] Yes, there are negative comments and all are adding to the grief. My deepest sympathies to the family.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

[Portion removed.]

Erik Schoennauer -- my heart-felt condolences to you and your entire family. Your uncle and his friend and caregiver both sound like wonderful people. It is unfortunate that people lose track of what's most important and post speculative and insensitive remarks, but please know that there are many who are keeping you and your family in their thoughts and prayers. A terrible, terrible loss.

Posted by veriloud, a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2014 at 8:38 pm

veriloud is a registered user.

Erik, As a youth I knew your uncle when we both lived in East Palo Alto. Don was a good friend of my best friend Bob Staley who lived on the same street. Don was an impressive guy - dedicated to skating, he wasn't around in the neighborhood too much, but I can remember he had a great wit - very cool kid.. The last time I saw Don was right after he came home from the service. I was drafted in '69 and can relate to the toll that miserable war took on many of my friends.. My deep condolences with much Peace to you and your family please RIP Don Schoennauer

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

To post your comment, please click here to Log in

Remember me?
Forgot Password?
or register. This topic is only for those who have signed up to participate by providing their email address and establishing a screen name.

Palo Alto quietly gets new evening food truck market
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 3,234 views

On Tour - The Highly Selective Liberal Arts Colleges: Occidental, Pitzer, and Scripps
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,932 views

See Me. Hear Me. Donít Fix Me.
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,652 views

Foothills Park: a world away
By Sally Torbey | 9 comments | 1,504 views

Candidate Kickoff Events: Public, not just for supporters
By Douglas Moran | 6 comments | 889 views