Renee C. Byer, Mct
NAPA, Calif. — He could do this, Don Hatfield insisted, rubbing his weary eyes as he stood in the cluttered kitchen of his hastily acquired new rental home.
He could get out of bed three times in the night to feed a bottle to baby Alex. He could change diapers, and clean up spills, and pick up toys, and cook oatmeal, and read bedtime stories to Eva and Ariel. He was more than capable of protecting two confused little girls and a baby boy who suddenly are without their parents after their mother was killed and their father arrested.
He had no choice.
"God has kept me fit and strong, and this is my new life," said Hatfield, 64, shrugging as he collapsed onto a sofa next to two small wooden Dora the Explorer chairs. "This is what I must do."
A year ago, Hatfield, a noted Northern California artist whose impressionist paintings hang in collections around the world, was dreaming of a retirement filled with golf dates and world travels with his beloved wife, Janey.
But the couple got underwater on their mortgage and lost their rustic 4,000-square-foot Napa, Calif., home to foreclosure, forcing them to move into a small condominium in Yountville, Calif. A few months later, Janey was diagnosed with cancer. She died in January.
Hatfield was in the full throes of grief, and still calculating medical bills for Janey's treatment, when he learned that his only daughter, Rachel, had been stabbed to death, allegedly by her husband, Todd Winkler. Authorities said that Alex, 9 months, Ariel, 2, and Eva, 4, were inside the couple's Cameron Park, Calif., home at the time of the attack Feb. 27.
On that terrible morning, Hatfield got a telephone call from one of the couple's neighbors on their normally quiet street near Cameron Airpark in El Dorado County, where for three years Rachel Winkler worked as general manager. Come quickly, the neighbor said. The children were safe, but something had happened to Rachel.
"Is there yellow tape around the property?" Hatfield recalled asking. The neighbor answered yes. "Is there an ambulance there?" No, the neighbor said.
"That's when I knew she was gone," said Hatfield.
Sheriff's deputies arrested Todd Winkler, 45, who was subsequently charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty.
Winkler's lawyer, David Weiner, said his client is a solid citizen and successful businessman who acted in self-defense when his wife went after him with a pair of scissors.
"This man has an exceptional background, and has never been in trouble in his life," said Weiner.
Minutes after he learned of his daughter's death, Hatfield made a surreal drive from Napa to Cameron Park and collected his grandchildren. The next day, he appeared at a hearing to petition for temporary guardianship. He enlisted family members and friends to help him quickly find a larger home to accommodate him and the three youngsters. He began meeting with lawyers and talking to county child protection authorities while making final arrangements for Rachel.
Hatfield and the children moved into a four-bedroom rental house in Napa two weeks ago.
On a recent afternoon, Rachel's longtime friend Eva Tagore fed Alex in his high chair while the two girls finished their lunches and requested apple pie for dessert. Another friend would soon arrive to take them out for a drive while Grandpa talked to a reporter.
"I'm not doing all of this alone," said Hatfield, a tall, self-deprecating man with a full head of gray hair and a neatly trimmed goatee.
Tagore is among a group of close friends who plan to stick around for as long as Hatfield needs them. "Rachel's children are in loving hands," she said.
But it is unclear how long the youngsters will be staying with Hatfield.
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