Hector Bedolla-Zarate of Jackson was killed on July Fourth while tubing down the Snake River with a group of friends. The 22-year-old was not wearing a life vest and got pulled downstream near the rapid known as King’s Wave. Now, he’s being remembered as a loyal friend who loomed especially large in Jackson’s soccer circles.
KHOL Spanish-language correspondent Alicia Unger has been reporting on the impact of Bedolla-Zarate’s sudden loss in Jackson’s Latino community, including among his family members. Listen above to hear KHOL News Director Kyle Mackie sit down with Unger to discuss her reporting in English followed by Unger’s full feature story in Spanish.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KYLE MACKIE: Alicia, thank you so much for your reporting on this very difficult and sad story. You were able to attend a recent memorial for Hector Bedolla-Zarate. Can you tell us about that? I understand you were also able to speak to many of his family members.
ALICIA UNGER: Thank you, Kyle. As you mentioned, it was a very emotional event. The entire Latino community is very disrupted by this accident that cost the life of Hector Bedolla-Zarate, a young man of just 22 years old, who was enjoying the Fourth of July with his friends, and the river. However, he didn’t have a vest—
MACKIE: A life jacket.
UNGER: And unfortunately, the current and the strength of the river pulled him [downstream]. And this accident has shocked the community. I was able to speak to his mother, who considered him an angel in her house, and seeing all these events that are being made in his name, she mentioned that those events assured her that her son was an angel to the community as well.
MACKIE: I’ve read—the [Jackson Hole] News&Guide had a moving tribute to him—and I’ve read about what a pillar in the community he was as a soccer player and as a friend and family member. How are some of the other family members that you spoke to remembering him?
UNGER: Well, the aunt is just devastated. She told me that she was able to take care of him at a very young age for like four years, when he was a little kid. So, of course, she doesn’t compare the pain that she’s feeling with his mother, but she also loves him as her own son. His sister remembered him dancing with her, even though [she says] that he was not a very good dancer, he tried to share with her happy moments, dancing and twerking [laughs]. So, that’s something very, very nice, in the middle of tears, to remember Hector by.
MACKIE: This accident is really highlighting the importance of river safety, specifically, but, you know, in general the risks that we all take when we’re recreating outside. You spoke to Emily [Coombs] from Coombs Outdoors. Can you tell us about that conversation and what lesson she’s hoping folks will take from this accident?
UNGER: Yes, I was able to talk to Emily and she explained to me that Mother Nature is very unpredictable and we all should respect Mother Nature—mountains, rivers. And therefore, she would like to see more education about it, to teach young kids about the danger and how to manage the risks.
MACKIE: Is there anything else that you would like to share about what you’ve learned about Hector before we go to your story in Spanish?
UNGER: Just that I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Hector, but seeing how the community will remember him, it’s very touching. And he leaves a legacy of good morals.
MACKIE: Well, thank you, Alicia. And we will go now to your full story in Spanish.
UNGER: Thank you. Enjoy it.