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At Least 20 People Died in the Montecito Mudslides. These Are Their Stories

Here are the stories of those who died and those of others in a community where victims ranged from captains of industry to the people who manicure their lawns.

By John Rogers and Julie Watson • Published January 13, 2018 • Updated on January 15, 2018 at 8:30 pm

An immigrant from Mexico and a pair of sisters were among the 20 people killed in devastating mudslides that brought tragedy and sorrow to the idyllic coastal community of Montecito, California.

Other victims included a 30-year-old man and his 6-year-old son and father-in-law; a doctor and his daughter who died in the arms of her brother, a young mother asleep with her 3-year-old daughter as her 10-year-old nephew slumbered nearby; and a woman and her 89-year-old husband of more than 50 years who celebrated his birthday the day before the disaster.

Here are their stories and those of others in the community where victims ranged from captains of industry to the people who manicure their lawns:

Sisters Sawyer Corey, 12, and Morgan Christine Corey, 25, were sleeping when the mud smashed into their home.

Sawyer was found dead earlier in the week. Her sister’s body was found Saturday in mud and debris.

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“As with so many other families, we know that as their house came down around them — our girls clung to each other as best they could while being washed away,” their brother Taylor Owens wrote on a fundraising web page.

Sawyer’s twin sister, Summer, and their mother, Carie Baker, were injured and being treated at a hospital, relatives reported.

The family’s grief “is immense, insurmountable, and impossible to communicate,” Owens wrote.

Dr. Mark Montgomery and his family returned from a Brazilian vacation only two days before the mudslide that killed him and daughter Caroline came crashing down a hillside into their two-story home.

Montgomery’s wife and oldest daughter had left for a business trip to New York soon after returning home Sunday. He stayed behind with 22-year-old Caroline, who had just graduated from college, and his 20-year-old son, Duffy.

The three were asleep before dawn Tuesday when the mudslide slammed into their home. The 54-year-old physician, sleeping downstairs, was swept away.

His daughter, sleeping upstairs, was engulfed in mud and other debris. As Duffy tried to save her she died in his arms, said Dr. Michael Behrman, a longtime family friend. Her brother suffered a broken shoulder blade and other injuries.

Behrman had been staying in the Montgomery family’s home while they vacationed, his own home having burned down during the devastating wildfire that struck the area last month.

“Having a house burned down and losing all your stuff doesn’t seem like a very big deal now,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s losing Mark and his daughter and the utter devastation of the area that has gone along with that. I, like everybody here, knew several of the other people who died.”

He was especially close to Montgomery, having recruited his fellow orthopedic surgeon to Santa Barbara more than 20 years ago and having mentored Montgomery during his residency.

“He made a huge difference in people’s lives,” Behrman said. “He was an absolutely wonderful guy, who had a kind word for everybody, very friendly, compassionate and wonderful with his patients.”

As word of the physician’s death spread, tributes poured onto social media.

“He fixed my hand after a camping accident in 2012, two weeks before my wedding,” David Iglesias told KSBY. “I cut all the tendons in my fingers. He was able to reattach them. I have full use and feeling in my hand because of Dr. Montgomery.”

Marilyn Ramos was asleep in bed with her 3-year-old daughter, Kaelly Benitez, when the mudslide came crashing through their rental home, carrying both to their deaths.

Also killed was Kaelly’s 10-year-old cousin, Jonathan Benitez, who was asleep nearby.

Marilyn’s husband, Antonio Benitez, was injured, as was his brother, Victor, who is Jonathan’s father. Victor’s 2-year-old son survived, but his wife, Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28, was missing.

[NATL-LA UPDATED 1/22] Photos After the Storm: Destruction in Montecito

The brothers, immigrants from Mexico, owned a gardening and landscaping business in Montecito. Marilyn was a stay-at-home mom.

“My sister was such a good person, she only thought of others to the point that she would cry with you when you were hurt or sick,” Jennifer Ramos said between sobs as she spoke by phone from her home in Mexico.

Her 27-year-old sister called relatives every day in the town of Marquelia, near Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Jennifer Ramos said. When a call didn’t come Tuesday she sensed something was wrong.

During her last call home the day before, Marilyn put her daughter on the phone and she happily told her aunt about the toys she received on Jan. 6, The Day of the Magi, a holiday widely celebrated in Latin America.

During a visit home in September, Marilyn Ramos told her family she missed Mexico and hoped to return someday. On Friday, her family spoke with Mexican officials about bringing her body back.

Martin Cabrera Munoz, 48, was sleeping in the room he kept at his boss’s home on East Valley Road when an avalanche of mud ripped through the property.

Munoz worked long hours as a landscaper, sending money back to Guanajuato, Mexico, where his two sons, 26 and 12, and 19-year-old daughter live.

“Overall, he wanted to give his kids a better life,” his youngest sister, Diana Montero, told the Los Angeles Times.

Firefighters rescued a teen girl trapped for hours in a home destroyed by mud and debris flows early Tuesday Jan. 9, 2018 in Montecito.

Munoz grew up in Guanajuato and came to the U.S. to join his mother in 1998. He was the second of eight siblings, most of whom live in Southern California.

Montero said her brother was hard-working and loved to joke around with his family.

“He listened to music all day long — any type of Mexican music, rock and KISS,” she recalled.

The body of 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa was found Saturday and crews were still searching for his 2-year-old daughter, Lydia.

The mudslide decimated Sutthithepa’s family, killing his 6-year-old son, Peerawat, and stepfather, Richard Loring Taylor, 79.

“At 4 a.m. the house was obliterated by mud, boulders and rushing water. Literally nothing is left,” Mike Caldwell, Sutthithepa’s boss at Toyota of Santa Barbara, wrote on a GoFundMe page seeking help for the family.

His wife and mother were working at the time. Another relative was rescued by firefighters.

“This family has lost everything but the clothes they were wearing,” Caldwell wrote.

Firefighters in Santa Barbara County used a search dog to look for victims among destruction caused by heavy rain and mudslides on Jan. 8, 2018.

Sutthithepa immigrated from Thailand, leaving behind his wife and two children but sending them money for years until he could bring them to the United States, a friend, Poy Sayavongs, told the Lee Central Coast News.

“They finally were able to make it to the states in the summer of 2016,” Sayavongs said. “It’s cruel — they only had a short time together before this tragedy struck.”

A month earlier, the family had evacuated to a Red Cross shelter for a night as the devastating wildfire threatened their home.

“I would’ve never imagined Peerawat would’ve been killed by the mudslides, when they were able to survive the Thomas Fire,” family friend Kevin Touly told the Central Coast News. “We’re just so heartbroken.”

Peerawat, known as Pasta, loved trains, Touly told the Los Angeles Times.

Sometimes, Sutthithepa’s wife would join him at work and bring along their children, co-worker Anneliese Place told the Times.

Peerawat would run around her desk and giggle, she said.

The body of 87-year-old Joseph Francis Bleckel was found in his Romero Canyon home four days after the disaster hit.

Bleckel and his late wife, Margaret, did not have any children but were always surrounded by 20 nieces and nephews, KSBY-TV reported .

“Basic idea is that he really was an adopted father,” nephew Gerald Bleckel told the station. “God, they treated us so special. I really did feel like it was a special relationship.”

Joseph Bleckel came out of Depression-era poverty, joined the Navy and served in the Korean War and then used the GI Bill to get an education, according to the family.

“He got a degree and he had a Masters in electrical engineering,” said Jim Bleckel, another nephew. “He was a scientific guy, very methodical and precise in everything, very polite.”

Joseph Bleckel worked for Westinghouse Electric Corp. in supply chain quality control until he retired at age 66. The family told KSBY he loved to read, travel and watch the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Peter Fleurat was at home with his partner of 17 years during Tuesday’s violent storm when the couple felt the floor beneath them shake and roll.

Moments later, a wall of mud burst through their walls and swept him and Ralph “Lalo” Barajas away.

“The last thing Peter yelled out to me was, ‘Lalo, grab onto some wood and don’t let go,'” Barajas told CBS News. “That was the last I heard of him.”

Barajas was rescued, treated for cuts, bruises and a sprained neck and released from a Santa Barbara hospital. He searched for his partner until he got the news that he had died.

Thirteen people died when a storm socked Southern California. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.

Fleurat was a member of the Ventura County Koi Society with a great sense of humor, society president Mary Oxman told the Los Angeles Times. He sometimes showed up to meetings wearing bright colors or silly sunglasses.

“He liked to do silly, off-the-wall things just to see how people would react,” Oxman said.

Barajas is the owner of The Rose, a popular Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara, and his niece, Angelique Barajas, responded to offers of help from customers by launching a GoFundMe page for him.

She said her uncle will need money to replace his home and possessions — and to bury his partner.

Jim and Alice Mitchell had been married for more than 50 years and had just celebrated Jim’s 89th birthday when they were swept away along with their dog Gigi.

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Jim, who worked in labor relations, and Alice, a schoolteacher, had moved to Montecito in 1995 after raising their two children in Southern California’s Orange County.

“They’re an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house,” their daughter, Kelly Weimer, said Wednesday before learning they had died.

She last spoke to them Monday when she called to wish her father a happy birthday.

The couple had planned to stay at home the night of the storm and have a quiet dinner. Their grandson had taken them out to celebrate the day before.

The Mitchells are survived by their two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Rebecca Riskin was the picture of success and health.

Her firm, Riskin Partners, credited the former ballerina with having closed more than $2 billion in high-end real estate sales since she founded the company in the early 1990s.

“She’s leaving a huge void. She was exceptional,” said Gina Conte, who described the 61-year-old Riskin as her best friend, mentor and confidante.

Conte said Riskin, who was the maid of honor at her wedding, took joy in pairing the perfect home with the perfect family and loved cooking, going for long walks and spending movie nights with her family.

The Downey Fire Department was on the scene to rescue at least one person as a pickup truck became stuck in the Rio Hondo Riverbed.

Riskin was swept away after the mudslide tore through her living room, Conte said, adding that Riskin’s husband survived because he was in bed in a part of the house that stayed intact. Her body was found Wednesday near a highway.

Riskin Partners spokeswoman Erin Lammers said Riskin was a member of the American Ballet Theater in New York before an injury cut short her dancing career.

She returned to her hometown of Los Angeles in 1979, where she began selling high-end real estate on the city’s west side. She moved to Montecito in the early 1990s.

Riskin is survived by her husband, two grown children and a grandson.

Lauren Cantin became the face of survival when rescuers pulled the mud-covered 14-year-old girl from her flattened home earlier this week. Authorities said her 49-year-old father, David, died and her 17-year-old brother, Jack, is missing.

David Cantin was vice president of global sales for a leading developer of instruments used by surgeons. Cantin’s company, NDS Surgical Imaging, developed some of the medical industry’s earliest digital imaging technologies for minimally invasive surgery.

He graduated from Bryant University and obtained a graduate degree from Xavier University, according to his employer’s website. He also was a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts.

His house was destroyed by the mudslide that buried his daughter for hours before firefighters could rescue her.

“I thought I was dead for a minute,” she told them before an ambulance took her away.

Her mother, Kim, also was rescued.

NeoTract, a maker of devices used in urology, launched a fundraising page asking for financial support for the family. In two days it more than tripled its goal of $20,000.

Josephine “Josie” Gower was celebrated by family as a woman who loved and embraced life for each one of her 69 years.

“I have never met anyone quite like her and never will again,” her daughter-in-law Sarah Gower wrote on Facebook after authorities confirmed Gower was among those killed by the mudslides. “She was the life of the party, always, and loved us all so fiercely. She lived for her kids and for our kids.”

Gower’s own Facebook page reveals a woman with a playful love of life. One photo shows her dressed as a mermaid by a pool while others show her riding horses and cuddling with her cats.

“A bundle of fun,” her daughter-in-law said. “She was just simply the most loving, cheerful, beautiful, strong, independent force. We will miss her so.”

She is survived by two adult children and three grandchildren.

Friends and family remembered John McManigal as a dedicated family man who died trying to help one of his six children flee the pre-dawn mudslide as it enveloped their home.

Awakened by a last-second warning Tuesday that disaster was approaching, McManigal, 61, roused his 23-year-old son, Connor, and the pair tried to flee. He was killed. His son, carried a mile by the mud, survived.

“Connor, is recovering from serious injuries in the hospital,” a friend said in a statement posted on a GoFundMe page created for the family.

The posting described McManigal as “an amazing man, father of six, and a loving husband.”

His community activities included serving as a host father for the Santa Barbara Foresters baseball club, for which Connor played.

“Like the rest of our larger Santa Barbara community, we are crushed by this tragedy,” the club said in a statement. “We send love, prayers, and strength to the affected families and their loved ones.”

Roy Rohter was the revered founder of a private Catholic school in nearby Ventura.

The 84-year-old former real estate broker had fled his Montecito home just last month when it came under threat from a wildfire. He died at that home, authorities confirmed Thursday.

“Roy believed intensely in the power of a Catholic education,” St. Augustine Headmaster Michael Van Hecke, said this week. “He’s been a deep supporter of the school in every way and a mentor to me personally, to the faculty and to the kids.”

Officials of the K-12 school Rohter founded in 1994 said his wife was injured in the mudslide but survived.

“Pray also for his wife, Theresa, the gentle giant of charity and grace, and for his children and grandchildren,” the school said in a statement.

Rogers and Watson reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Krysta Fauria in Montecito and Christopher Weber, Amanda Lee Myers, Robert Jablon and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Remembering the Victims of the Montecito Mudslides

Children, students, young adults, middle-aged executives, landscapers, well-to-do retirees, immigrants from near and far — the list of people who were tragically killed by the Montecito mudslides is a powerful reminder that this enclave is home not just to the rich and famous but to a diverse group of neighbors who’ve worked hard to enjoy our usually idyllic climate and community. Here are brief tributes to the victims.

Dr. Mark Montgomery, 54; Caroline Montgomery, 22

Dr. Mark Montgomery, his daughter Caroline, and son Duffy had just returned home after a Christmas trip to South America when disaster struck. “They were the sort of family that took trips instead of exchanging presents,” said longtime friend Allwyn Fitzpatrick. She reckons the jet-lagged Montgomerys were probably fast asleep when the steep hillsides turned liquid and deadly.

Duffy, the youngest of three kids, would survive. Caroline, a senior at Barnard College, did not, nor did her father, a noted hand surgeon.

Both father and daughter were driven by an adventurous spirit. A world traveler with ambitions for a career in fashion design and marketing, Caroline was reportedly graced with an “effervescent curiosity,” according to a friend. As a hand surgeon, Montgomery enjoyed ferocious loyalty among his patients. He was skilled, available, and direct. And he bubbled over with wry humor.

An avid athlete, Montgomery played softball, rugby, and hockey. He took his office staff to Dodger games even though he was an ardent Yankee fan, having grown up in New York. Montgomery sponsored the Foresters, Santa Barbara’s semi-pro baseball team, giving players a place to stay and buying, on occasion, a keg of beer to share with fans. “He really enjoyed what he did, and he wanted other people to enjoy it too,” said another longtime friend. Montgomery’s wife, Catherine, and oldest daughter were still in South America when they learned of the tragedy.

Joseph Francis Bleckel, 87

Joseph Bleckel was found in his home off Romero Canyon last week, after search-and-rescue workers scoured his property for the second time. Bleckel lived alone, having survived his wife, Margaret. Bleckel was the child of a single mother, a poor Italian immigrant who married an American GI who was killed during World War I. He grew up the hard way, joining the U.S. Navy, serving during the Korean War, and getting a degree in engineering on the GI Bill. Bleckel worked for Westinghouse, loved the Dodgers, and managed to retire at age 66. He gave quietly but generously to organizations like Direct Relief and the Cancer Center. He had no children, but is survived by a multitude of nephews and nieces.

Martín Cabrera-Muñoz, 48

A landscaper by profession, Martín Cabrera-Muñoz was brought from Guanajuato, Mexico, to Santa Barbara by his mother in 1998, according to his brother, Joel Muñoz. Martín lived on East Valley Road with the Benitez family and leaves behind three children, Alejandro, Gabriela, and Uriel Cabrera, who live in Mexico.

“My brother was such a hard worker, such a jokester,” said Joel. “He worked to support his kids in Mexico, and on his free time, he liked to visit all our siblings here in Santa Barbara, Lompoc, and Los Angeles and spend the weekend with us.”

Cabrera-Muñoz also enjoyed listening to music, everything from Mexican music to rock ’n’ roll and KISS. “Overall, he wanted to give his kids a better life,” said his sister Diana Montero.

The Muñoz family has set up a GoFundMe page to cover funeral arrangements: gofundme.com/services-for-our-brother.

Alice Mitchell, 78; James Mitchell, 89

The Mitchells moved to Montecito in 1995 after raising their two children in Orange County. Their three-bedroom, Spanish-style home was located at 319 Hot Springs Road at the intersection of Hot Springs and Olive Mill roads, a neighborhood wholly transformed by the flooding into vast boulder fields and uprooted trees among the mudflow. The couple had long dreamed of retiring in Montecito, and Alice’s artwork filled their home, which they called “Casa de Contenta,” meaning house of happiness or contentment. Alice was a teacher, and Jim worked in labor relations.

John McManigal, 61

The father of six sons, John McManigal — who started his own equipment financing company called MEDCAP Asset Finance after a 16-year career with IBM — was active in Santa Barbara’s sports community, supporting water polo programs at Santa Barbara High (where five of his sons played) as well as the Foresters, the semi-pro baseball team for which his son, Connor, played. McManigal’s last act was waking up Connor as the storm waters hit, and his son survived after being swept nearly a mile away from their Hot Springs Road home.

“My dad left behind an incredible legacy that my brothers and I will continue to carry forward,” wrote his son Will on Facebook.

His memorial is on Saturday, January 20, 2 p.m., at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara. His family has decided to give the money raised on their GoFundMe page to the Benitez family, with whom they grieved in the hospital: gofundme.com/qmv424-the-mcmanigal-family.

Rebecca Riskin, 61

Known as the “first lady of luxury Montecito real estate,” Rebecca Riskin went from being a professional ballerina in New York City to growing Riskin Partners into one of the most successful property purveyors in the region, with more than $2 billion in closed sales since the company’s founding in the early 1990s. Known for working late at night, she was swept away from her living room during the storm; her husband, who was upstairs, suffered serious injuries but survived. “We intend to carry out her life’s work with the same strength, grace, and elegance that wholly defined Rebecca,” said Dina Landi, the firm’s managing partner, in a statement. “Rebecca was an exceptional woman, and her legacy will continue to live on and thrive through her children, Robert and Julia, her husband, Ken Grand, and her namesake firm, Riskin Partners.”

Donations in her name can be made to tri-counties.org.

Roy Rohter, 84

After retiring from real estate, Roy Rohter celebrated his devout Catholic faith by founding St. Augustine Academy in Ventura in 1994. Today, 165 students attend the school. “Roy’s life has been in service to his good, loving, and ever-forgiving God,” said the school’s headmaster, Michael Van Hecke. “He’s been a deep supporter of the school in every way and a mentor to me personally, to the faculty and to the kids.” Rohter’s wife, Theresa, was also swept away by the flood but was rescued and survived.

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Josephine ‘Josie’ Marie Franceschini Gower, 69

Popular in many social circles and known for zipping around town in a red convertible, Josie Gower will be remembered as a lover of life. “She was the life of the party, always, and loved us all so fiercely,” her daughter-in-law Sarah Gower wrote on Facebook. Born in 1948 to Italian immigrant parents, Gower got a nursing degree from SBCC but then sailed through the South Pacific, where she married New Zealand rancher Jack Gower. Upon returning to Santa Barbara, she managed properties, was crowned “Queen of the Y” at the Montecito YMCA, and became an active member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She is survived by two adult children, Briana Haigh and Hayden Gower; three grandchildren, Parker, Luca, and Poppy; her partner, Norm Borgatello; and her sister Elda’s family, the Castagnolas. A celebration of her life will be held on Thursday, January 18, 10 a.m. at the Santa Barbara Mission.

Donations can be made in her name to the Montecito Family YMCA, 591 Santa Rosa Ln., Santa Barbara, CA 93108.

David Cantin, 49

As a scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 33, David Cantin shared his love of the outdoors with his 16-year-old son, Jack, who is still missing as of press time. His 14-year-old daughter, Lauren, was the girl miraculously pulled from the mud by firefighters, and his wife, Kim, also survived when their house was destroyed by the slide. As vice president of NDS Surgical Imaging, Cantin sold operating room technology that enables minimally invasive procedures, and was well known to the tight-knit Santa Barbara Middle School community, who have been grieving his death and praying for Jack, an alum.

Morgan Corey, 25; Sawyer Corey, 12

Four members of the Corey household were swept away by the storm: Carie Baker and her 12-year-old daughter, Summer, were found a mile from their home and are recovering from serious injuries. But Summer’s twin, Sawyer, a 6th grader at Cold Spring School, and their older half sister, Morgan Corey, did not survive.

“As with so many other families, we know that as their house came down around them, our girls clung to each other as best they could while being washed away,” wrote Morgan’s sister Taylor Owens on the fundraising site Fundly. “Our grief for our girls … is immense, insurmountable, and impossible to communicate.”

Kailly Benitez, 3; Marilyn Ramos, 27; Jonathan Benitez, 10

Nearly an hour after the deadly storm hit, 2-year-old Ian Benitez was pulled from a muddy woodpile by a firefighter. A narrow hole directly down to his face allowed him to breath. Rescuers could barely hear him cry. He had traveled three-quarters of a mile, said firefighter Dustin McKibben, who pulled him out. Benitez was initially thought to be a baby girl by nearby resident and rescuer Berkeley “Augie” Johnson because he has long hair.

For the past week, Ian has joined his father, Victor Benitez, in the hospital. Victor, whose entire body is badly bruised, has not wanted to let Ian go, friends say. His oldest son, Jonathan, a 5th grader in Omar Espinoza’s class at Cleveland Elementary, was found dead. He was remembered as a joyful kid. Victor’s wife and the boys’ mother, Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28, is still missing.

Victor lived with his brother, Antonio, on East Valley Road. The brothers, who immigrated from Mexico, started a landscaping company. Faviola worked as a housekeeper. Antonio’s wife, Marilyn Ramos, and their daughter, Kailly, were both reportedly swept out of bed that night and killed. Marilyn was a stay-at-home mom and, the Associated Press reported, was in close contact with her family in Marquelia near Acapulco on the coast in Mexico.

The Benitez family had lived in Montecito for a number of years. Robin Lewis said they worked for her, as well as about 10 families in her Goleta neighborhood, since 2011. In the summer months, she said, Victor brought Jonathan to work. “They are extremely hardworking,” she said. “We really love and respect them.” Lewis started a GoFundMe webpage for them: gofundme.com/benitez-family-mudslide-fund.

Lorena Penaloza, whose family owns Joyeria Latina Americana, also launched a GoFundMe page for recovery expenses: gofundme.com/4zuaupc. In addition, she set up a donation box at the Milpas Street jewelry store. She has received 20-30 calls a day, she said. She described the surviving family members as very private and still in shock.

Pinit ‘Oom’ Sutthithepa, 30; Peerawat ‘Pasta’ Sutthithepa, 6; Richard ‘Loring’ Taylor, 79

The Taylor-Sutthithepa family of six lived on East Valley Road in a home Richard “Loring” Taylor bought in the 1960s. Loring, who was 79, spent his career as an English college professor in the United States, Romania, and the Middle East.

He met his wife, Perm, in Thailand about 20 years ago, and she immigrated to the United States. Her son, Pinit “Oom” Sutthithepa, soon followed and attended Santa Barbara High School for a year. Oom often returned to Khon Kaen in Thailand, where he married a former schoolmate, Yuphawan, who goes by Aw. They had two kids, 6-year-old Peerawat, who went by Pasta, and 2-year-old Lydia. In summer 2016, Aw and the kids moved to Montecito to live with Oom, Perm, and Loring. Perm’s cousin, Sirithorn Janthorntho, who goes by May, also lived with them.

Oom, Pasta, and Loring were killed in the storm; Lydia is still missing. Aw and Perm escaped the disaster because they happened to be working the night shift chopping produce at Vons. May survived; she was pulled from the mud by firefighters about two hours after the rain started.

After working as a truck driver, Oom started working at Toyota Santa Barbara about three years ago. His boss, Mike Caldwell, said Oom was a hard worker, had an infectious smile, and loved sports. He turned 30 years old the Saturday before he died.

Loring is a familiar face in Montecito. He was known to be a compelling storyteller; there wasn’t a book he wouldn’t read, relatives said. The family had a close relationship with their neighbors, the Benitez family, who were also attacked by the storm. In recent days, the surviving relatives embraced in the hospital as if they were one big family, Caldwell said.

On Saturday, after Oom’s body was found, they were allowed back to the leveled lot on East Valley Road to hold a Buddhist ceremony. Reporters working for a Thai media outlet were there to take photographs. On Sunday, Perm and Aw stood on the steps at the vigil at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, where hundreds gathered to mourn.

Peter Fleurat, 73

Peter Fleurat was swept away from his Hot Springs Road home during the storm with his partner of 20 years, Ralph “Lalo” Barajas. Barajas, who owns Rose Café on the Mesa, survived, but Fleurat didn’t. The pair lived in what friends described as a gorgeous craftsman house. Fleurat was known to be a skilled gardener, friends said. Fleurat and Barajas went on many trips, and Fleurat was willing to take on any challenge, wrote friend and guest Robert Borneman, driving fearlessly in Mexico and “laughing wildly when he would hit the topes (speed bumps) unexpectedly.” When the Santa Barbara News-Press erroneously reported that Barajas had also been killed, lifelong friends and customers showed up to the Rose Café with flowers.

At Least 20 People Died in the Montecito Mudslides. These Are Their Stories

Here are the stories of those who died and those of others in a community where victims ranged from captains of industry to the people who manicure their lawns.

By John Rogers and Julie Watson • Published January 13, 2018 • Updated on January 15, 2018 at 8:30 pm

An immigrant from Mexico and a pair of sisters were among the 20 people killed in devastating mudslides that brought tragedy and sorrow to the idyllic coastal community of Montecito, California.

Other victims included a 30-year-old man and his 6-year-old son and father-in-law; a doctor and his daughter who died in the arms of her brother, a young mother asleep with her 3-year-old daughter as her 10-year-old nephew slumbered nearby; and a woman and her 89-year-old husband of more than 50 years who celebrated his birthday the day before the disaster.

Here are their stories and those of others in the community where victims ranged from captains of industry to the people who manicure their lawns:

Sisters Sawyer Corey, 12, and Morgan Christine Corey, 25, were sleeping when the mud smashed into their home.

Sawyer was found dead earlier in the week. Her sister’s body was found Saturday in mud and debris.

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“As with so many other families, we know that as their house came down around them — our girls clung to each other as best they could while being washed away,” their brother Taylor Owens wrote on a fundraising web page.

Sawyer’s twin sister, Summer, and their mother, Carie Baker, were injured and being treated at a hospital, relatives reported.

The family’s grief “is immense, insurmountable, and impossible to communicate,” Owens wrote.

Dr. Mark Montgomery and his family returned from a Brazilian vacation only two days before the mudslide that killed him and daughter Caroline came crashing down a hillside into their two-story home.

Montgomery’s wife and oldest daughter had left for a business trip to New York soon after returning home Sunday. He stayed behind with 22-year-old Caroline, who had just graduated from college, and his 20-year-old son, Duffy.

The three were asleep before dawn Tuesday when the mudslide slammed into their home. The 54-year-old physician, sleeping downstairs, was swept away.

His daughter, sleeping upstairs, was engulfed in mud and other debris. As Duffy tried to save her she died in his arms, said Dr. Michael Behrman, a longtime family friend. Her brother suffered a broken shoulder blade and other injuries.

Behrman had been staying in the Montgomery family’s home while they vacationed, his own home having burned down during the devastating wildfire that struck the area last month.

“Having a house burned down and losing all your stuff doesn’t seem like a very big deal now,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s losing Mark and his daughter and the utter devastation of the area that has gone along with that. I, like everybody here, knew several of the other people who died.”

He was especially close to Montgomery, having recruited his fellow orthopedic surgeon to Santa Barbara more than 20 years ago and having mentored Montgomery during his residency.

“He made a huge difference in people’s lives,” Behrman said. “He was an absolutely wonderful guy, who had a kind word for everybody, very friendly, compassionate and wonderful with his patients.”

As word of the physician’s death spread, tributes poured onto social media.

“He fixed my hand after a camping accident in 2012, two weeks before my wedding,” David Iglesias told KSBY. “I cut all the tendons in my fingers. He was able to reattach them. I have full use and feeling in my hand because of Dr. Montgomery.”

Marilyn Ramos was asleep in bed with her 3-year-old daughter, Kaelly Benitez, when the mudslide came crashing through their rental home, carrying both to their deaths.

Also killed was Kaelly’s 10-year-old cousin, Jonathan Benitez, who was asleep nearby.

Marilyn’s husband, Antonio Benitez, was injured, as was his brother, Victor, who is Jonathan’s father. Victor’s 2-year-old son survived, but his wife, Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28, was missing.

[NATL-LA UPDATED 1/22] Photos After the Storm: Destruction in Montecito

The brothers, immigrants from Mexico, owned a gardening and landscaping business in Montecito. Marilyn was a stay-at-home mom.

“My sister was such a good person, she only thought of others to the point that she would cry with you when you were hurt or sick,” Jennifer Ramos said between sobs as she spoke by phone from her home in Mexico.

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Her 27-year-old sister called relatives every day in the town of Marquelia, near Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Jennifer Ramos said. When a call didn’t come Tuesday she sensed something was wrong.

During her last call home the day before, Marilyn put her daughter on the phone and she happily told her aunt about the toys she received on Jan. 6, The Day of the Magi, a holiday widely celebrated in Latin America.

During a visit home in September, Marilyn Ramos told her family she missed Mexico and hoped to return someday. On Friday, her family spoke with Mexican officials about bringing her body back.

Martin Cabrera Munoz, 48, was sleeping in the room he kept at his boss’s home on East Valley Road when an avalanche of mud ripped through the property.

Munoz worked long hours as a landscaper, sending money back to Guanajuato, Mexico, where his two sons, 26 and 12, and 19-year-old daughter live.

“Overall, he wanted to give his kids a better life,” his youngest sister, Diana Montero, told the Los Angeles Times.

Firefighters rescued a teen girl trapped for hours in a home destroyed by mud and debris flows early Tuesday Jan. 9, 2018 in Montecito.

Munoz grew up in Guanajuato and came to the U.S. to join his mother in 1998. He was the second of eight siblings, most of whom live in Southern California.

Montero said her brother was hard-working and loved to joke around with his family.

“He listened to music all day long — any type of Mexican music, rock and KISS,” she recalled.

The body of 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa was found Saturday and crews were still searching for his 2-year-old daughter, Lydia.

The mudslide decimated Sutthithepa’s family, killing his 6-year-old son, Peerawat, and stepfather, Richard Loring Taylor, 79.

“At 4 a.m. the house was obliterated by mud, boulders and rushing water. Literally nothing is left,” Mike Caldwell, Sutthithepa’s boss at Toyota of Santa Barbara, wrote on a GoFundMe page seeking help for the family.

His wife and mother were working at the time. Another relative was rescued by firefighters.

“This family has lost everything but the clothes they were wearing,” Caldwell wrote.

Firefighters in Santa Barbara County used a search dog to look for victims among destruction caused by heavy rain and mudslides on Jan. 8, 2018.

Sutthithepa immigrated from Thailand, leaving behind his wife and two children but sending them money for years until he could bring them to the United States, a friend, Poy Sayavongs, told the Lee Central Coast News.

“They finally were able to make it to the states in the summer of 2016,” Sayavongs said. “It’s cruel — they only had a short time together before this tragedy struck.”

A month earlier, the family had evacuated to a Red Cross shelter for a night as the devastating wildfire threatened their home.

“I would’ve never imagined Peerawat would’ve been killed by the mudslides, when they were able to survive the Thomas Fire,” family friend Kevin Touly told the Central Coast News. “We’re just so heartbroken.”

Peerawat, known as Pasta, loved trains, Touly told the Los Angeles Times.

Sometimes, Sutthithepa’s wife would join him at work and bring along their children, co-worker Anneliese Place told the Times.

Peerawat would run around her desk and giggle, she said.

The body of 87-year-old Joseph Francis Bleckel was found in his Romero Canyon home four days after the disaster hit.

Bleckel and his late wife, Margaret, did not have any children but were always surrounded by 20 nieces and nephews, KSBY-TV reported .

“Basic idea is that he really was an adopted father,” nephew Gerald Bleckel told the station. “God, they treated us so special. I really did feel like it was a special relationship.”

Joseph Bleckel came out of Depression-era poverty, joined the Navy and served in the Korean War and then used the GI Bill to get an education, according to the family.

“He got a degree and he had a Masters in electrical engineering,” said Jim Bleckel, another nephew. “He was a scientific guy, very methodical and precise in everything, very polite.”

Joseph Bleckel worked for Westinghouse Electric Corp. in supply chain quality control until he retired at age 66. The family told KSBY he loved to read, travel and watch the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Peter Fleurat was at home with his partner of 17 years during Tuesday’s violent storm when the couple felt the floor beneath them shake and roll.

Moments later, a wall of mud burst through their walls and swept him and Ralph “Lalo” Barajas away.

“The last thing Peter yelled out to me was, ‘Lalo, grab onto some wood and don’t let go,'” Barajas told CBS News. “That was the last I heard of him.”

Barajas was rescued, treated for cuts, bruises and a sprained neck and released from a Santa Barbara hospital. He searched for his partner until he got the news that he had died.

Thirteen people died when a storm socked Southern California. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.

Fleurat was a member of the Ventura County Koi Society with a great sense of humor, society president Mary Oxman told the Los Angeles Times. He sometimes showed up to meetings wearing bright colors or silly sunglasses.

“He liked to do silly, off-the-wall things just to see how people would react,” Oxman said.

Barajas is the owner of The Rose, a popular Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara, and his niece, Angelique Barajas, responded to offers of help from customers by launching a GoFundMe page for him.

She said her uncle will need money to replace his home and possessions — and to bury his partner.

Jim and Alice Mitchell had been married for more than 50 years and had just celebrated Jim’s 89th birthday when they were swept away along with their dog Gigi.

Jim, who worked in labor relations, and Alice, a schoolteacher, had moved to Montecito in 1995 after raising their two children in Southern California’s Orange County.

“They’re an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house,” their daughter, Kelly Weimer, said Wednesday before learning they had died.

She last spoke to them Monday when she called to wish her father a happy birthday.

The couple had planned to stay at home the night of the storm and have a quiet dinner. Their grandson had taken them out to celebrate the day before.

The Mitchells are survived by their two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Rebecca Riskin was the picture of success and health.

Her firm, Riskin Partners, credited the former ballerina with having closed more than $2 billion in high-end real estate sales since she founded the company in the early 1990s.

“She’s leaving a huge void. She was exceptional,” said Gina Conte, who described the 61-year-old Riskin as her best friend, mentor and confidante.

Conte said Riskin, who was the maid of honor at her wedding, took joy in pairing the perfect home with the perfect family and loved cooking, going for long walks and spending movie nights with her family.

The Downey Fire Department was on the scene to rescue at least one person as a pickup truck became stuck in the Rio Hondo Riverbed.

Riskin was swept away after the mudslide tore through her living room, Conte said, adding that Riskin’s husband survived because he was in bed in a part of the house that stayed intact. Her body was found Wednesday near a highway.

Riskin Partners spokeswoman Erin Lammers said Riskin was a member of the American Ballet Theater in New York before an injury cut short her dancing career.

She returned to her hometown of Los Angeles in 1979, where she began selling high-end real estate on the city’s west side. She moved to Montecito in the early 1990s.

Riskin is survived by her husband, two grown children and a grandson.

Lauren Cantin became the face of survival when rescuers pulled the mud-covered 14-year-old girl from her flattened home earlier this week. Authorities said her 49-year-old father, David, died and her 17-year-old brother, Jack, is missing.

David Cantin was vice president of global sales for a leading developer of instruments used by surgeons. Cantin’s company, NDS Surgical Imaging, developed some of the medical industry’s earliest digital imaging technologies for minimally invasive surgery.

He graduated from Bryant University and obtained a graduate degree from Xavier University, according to his employer’s website. He also was a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts.

His house was destroyed by the mudslide that buried his daughter for hours before firefighters could rescue her.

“I thought I was dead for a minute,” she told them before an ambulance took her away.

Her mother, Kim, also was rescued.

NeoTract, a maker of devices used in urology, launched a fundraising page asking for financial support for the family. In two days it more than tripled its goal of $20,000.

Josephine “Josie” Gower was celebrated by family as a woman who loved and embraced life for each one of her 69 years.

“I have never met anyone quite like her and never will again,” her daughter-in-law Sarah Gower wrote on Facebook after authorities confirmed Gower was among those killed by the mudslides. “She was the life of the party, always, and loved us all so fiercely. She lived for her kids and for our kids.”

Gower’s own Facebook page reveals a woman with a playful love of life. One photo shows her dressed as a mermaid by a pool while others show her riding horses and cuddling with her cats.

“A bundle of fun,” her daughter-in-law said. “She was just simply the most loving, cheerful, beautiful, strong, independent force. We will miss her so.”

She is survived by two adult children and three grandchildren.

Friends and family remembered John McManigal as a dedicated family man who died trying to help one of his six children flee the pre-dawn mudslide as it enveloped their home.

Awakened by a last-second warning Tuesday that disaster was approaching, McManigal, 61, roused his 23-year-old son, Connor, and the pair tried to flee. He was killed. His son, carried a mile by the mud, survived.

“Connor, is recovering from serious injuries in the hospital,” a friend said in a statement posted on a GoFundMe page created for the family.

The posting described McManigal as “an amazing man, father of six, and a loving husband.”

His community activities included serving as a host father for the Santa Barbara Foresters baseball club, for which Connor played.

“Like the rest of our larger Santa Barbara community, we are crushed by this tragedy,” the club said in a statement. “We send love, prayers, and strength to the affected families and their loved ones.”

Roy Rohter was the revered founder of a private Catholic school in nearby Ventura.

The 84-year-old former real estate broker had fled his Montecito home just last month when it came under threat from a wildfire. He died at that home, authorities confirmed Thursday.

“Roy believed intensely in the power of a Catholic education,” St. Augustine Headmaster Michael Van Hecke, said this week. “He’s been a deep supporter of the school in every way and a mentor to me personally, to the faculty and to the kids.”

Officials of the K-12 school Rohter founded in 1994 said his wife was injured in the mudslide but survived.

“Pray also for his wife, Theresa, the gentle giant of charity and grace, and for his children and grandchildren,” the school said in a statement.

Rogers and Watson reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Krysta Fauria in Montecito and Christopher Weber, Amanda Lee Myers, Robert Jablon and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Source https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/at-least-18-people-died-in-the-montecito-mudslides-these-are-their-stories/46981/

Source https://www.independent.com/2018/01/18/remembering-victims-montecito-mudslides/

Source https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/at-least-18-people-died-in-the-montecito-mudslides-these-are-their-stories/46981/

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