Subscribe for 33¢ / day
John McManigal

John McManigal


Friends of 6-year-old Peerawat Sutthithepn were in shock Thursday after the boy was identified as one of 17 people confirmed dead in mudslides that devastated Montecito this week. 

Peerawat's younger sister and father, Pinit Sutthithepa, are among 43 people still missing, and Pinit's stepfather, Richard Taylor, 67, was also identified Thursday as having been killed early Tuesday morning, when torrential rainfall washed rocks and debris from the fire-scarred Santa Ynez Mountains above the South Coast enclave.

Kevin Touly and his brother, Poy Sayavongs, from the Inland Empire, said Thursday they were very close to Peerawat's family. 

"We're still trying to look for Peerawat's dad and his sister," said Touly. "I would've never imagined Peerawat would've been killed by the mudslides, when they were able to survive the Thomas fire -- we're just so heartbroken." 

"The last time I saw Peerawat was just a few months ago, when his family came down to Ontario to visit us," recalled Sayavongs. "The last I spoke with Pinit was a week ago, to wish him a happy birthday."

Sayavongs said he met Pinit four years ago when they were employed as truck drivers at Central Refrigerated Services before Pinit took a job at Toyota of Santa Barbara. The pair traveled together for months while making a cross-country road trip from California to North Carolina. 

Pinit's wife and two children lived in Thailand, but throughout the years Pinit sent wages to his family and worked hard to bring them to the United States. 

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

Sayavongs said that when he spoke to Peerawat's mother Thursday, she told him that officials found the boy's body near the train tracks. "When I heard that, I couldn't believe it," he said.

Sayavongs said that he hopes and prays that officials will be able to find Peerawat's father and young sister.

"Pinit was like my brother -- I don't want to believe he's gone," said Sayavongs, as his voice began to break. "My heart is broken for the family ... we can only keep praying." 

* * *

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 beloved dog Gigi.

Jim, who worked in labor relations, and Alice, a schoolteacher, had raised their two children in Southern California's Orange County before moving to Montecito in 1995 after retiring.

"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 in 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 before she was killed.

Her firm, Riskin Partners, credited the former ballerina with having closed more than $2 billion in high-end real estate sales since founding 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.

Riskin was swept away after a mudslide tore through her living room, Conte said, adding that her 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.

* * * 

Dr. Mark Montgomery, 54, was an orthopedic hand surgeon employed at Associated Hand Surgeons located in Santa Barbara. 

* * *

John McManigal, 61, was the CEO and Founder of MEDCAP Asset Finance, based in Santa Barbara, which specializes in providing financing solutions to multiple industries. Prior to launching MEDCAP Asset Finance, McManigal worked at IBM, according to his business website. McManigal is a graduate of Bucknell University, where he received a bachelor's degree in economics and mechanical engineering. 

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

* * *

David Cantin, 49, served as Vice President for Global Sales for NDS Surgical Imaging, a Silicon Valley-based medical imaging company. Cantin held a bachelor's degree in business administration from Bryant University and an MBA from Xavier University. He also served as Scoutmaster of Santa Barbara's Boy Scouts of America Troop 33 for the last eight years. 

According to a Go Fund Me page  set up by friends of the Cantin family, the family's home was completely washed away in the mudslides. David's 16-year-old son Jack is one of those still missing. His wife Kim, and their 14-year-old daughter Lauren survived the flooding.

* * * 

Josephine "Josie" Gower, who also died in the Montecito mudslides, 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 killed. "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 blonde 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.

* * *

One of the oldest victims was Roy Rohta, 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 the 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, told The Associated Press earlier 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.

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Courts/Public Safety Reporter