MABTON - This past August, Sunnyside resident and long-time Mabton teacher Rafael Garcia was killed in a motorcycle accident enroute to Utah.
Services for Garcia have recently been changed.
According to best friend and organizer of the event, Dave Monson, the celebration of life service was originally scheduled for this Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Mabton High School gym, where Garcia taught for nearly 24 years. Yesterday, Wednesday, Monson was notified that the use of the gym was no longer accessible.
Monson says the "Ride for Rafa" will still take place, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Target store in Yakima. Motorcyclists will depart on their ride in memory of their friend at 11 a.m. but Monson says he is still looking for another venue for the celebration of life service.
"But if push comes to shove, we'll have it in my back yard," Monson said.
Monson says he and members of Garcia's family approached the school district in early September, when they tried to schedule the service for Sept. 29.
"We were told there was scheduling conflicts and that Oct. 6 was open," Monson said.
He says a Mabton teacher also has email correspondence of the date confirmation.
"I imagine it was presented in a way that alarmed the school district," Monson added.
Monson suspects city and school officials may be uneasy about the funeral procession of motorcycle riders entering the city of Mabton.
"Rafael was a motorcycle rider, not a gang-affiliated biker," Monson said.
But this bump in the road won't stop Monson from celebrating the life of his friend.
"When somebody pulls the chair out from under you, you just keep dancing," he said. "It's kind of disrespectful to Rafael to not have it there (at the school where he worked for more than two decades), though."
According to Mabton police, the official reasoning for the cancellation is that other school district activities were previously scheduled to take place at the gym.
Mabton School District Superintendent Minerva Morales this morning (Thursday) confirmed the service for the former teacher will not take place at the school, saying other school-related events are slated for that venue on Saturday.
Morales said the district has scheduled events, including homecoming activities and teacher trainings for this coming Saturday.
A memo was sent out saying that "due to conflicting engagements" the celebration of life service has been cancelled. Morales also noted that she didn't know if or when services would be rescheduled.
As for the rumors about the cancellation being related to the number of bikers coming into town, Morales says it's not true.
"It's a misperception that it was cancelled because of biker affiliation, that wasn't what drove this decision," she said. "We all (at the school district) think very highly of and respect Mr. Garcia, and that he invested and was committed to Mabton High School for the number of years he served here and he will be fondly remembered."
Monson says updated information about the service can be found on his personal Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ChopperDave13.