Michael Dornbach was a big, burly man with lots of tattoos and a big truck. But behind the gruff exterior, he was known to his family as a big teddy bear who’d give his mother, Maria Triliegi of San Pedro, a kiss goodnight most evenings.
The 57-year-old San Pedro resident and retired longshoreman was staying with family outside Calistoga the weekend of Oct. 8. He had scheduled an appointment with a real estate agent the following week and was looking to buy land in the mountains and build a small cabin, Triliegi said.
Dornbach was with his 18-year-old nephew, Robert Lee, on his family’s property on Mountain Home Ranch Road outside Calistoga Oct. 8 when flames were seen racing up the mountainside toward them.
Lee started to evacuate and asked his uncle to go with him, but Dornbach refused, said his sister, Laura Dornbach, who lives in Calistoga. He had just put a lot of money into a big Dodge Ram pickup and didn’t want to leave it behind. But first he had to find the keys.
Around 11:30 a.m. the following day, Dornbach’s body was found in the driveway.
“He really loved his truck and he could be really stubborn sometimes,” Laura Dornbach said.
Dornbach, the oldest of three, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The family moved to Inverness in the late 1960s, Triliegi said, where Dornbach developed a love for fishing on Tomales Bay. He spent his teenage years in Torrence.
He worked as a cement mason and then a longshoreman on a tugboat in San Pedro, but a back injury forced him into early retirement, Triliegi said. Both his mother and sister said his true passion was fishing.
“I’d come home to my mother’s and he would be cleaning a 40-pound tuna in the backyard,” Laura Dornbach said. “He made the best ceviche.”
Dornbach was also the kind of person to make Thanksgiving meals for the homeless. Triliegi said he planned to look after her as she aged. Dornbach lived in an in-law unit at his mother’s San Pedro home, and the two had coffee every morning.
He never married and had no children. In addition to his mother and sister, he is survived by a younger brother, Joshua Triliegi of Los Angeles.