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Remembering the victims of the Montecito mudslides

Posted at 4:44 PM, Jan 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-14 18:44:47-05

Families of the dead are grieving this week while search crews continue to look for four missing people nearly a week after devastating mudslides swept through Montecito. 

This story will be updated.


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

The Benitez family is mourning the loss of three family members as search crews continue to look for the body of Faviola Benitez Calderon. 

On Tuesday, January 9, the Benitez family was asleep in their Montecito home when the mudslide came crashing through their neighborhood. 

Marilyn Ramos Benitez and her 3-year-old daughter, Kailly Benitez, did not survive the mudslide.

Marilyn’s husband, Antonio, survived the mudslide but now is without his wife, child and nephew.

Family members say Marilyn often talked about missing Mexico and hoped to return one day. Her family spoke with Mexican officials Friday about bringing her body back.

Ten-year-old Jonathan Benitez was also asleep in the home when the mudslide tore through. He was Kailly’s cousin.

Jonathan’s mother Faviola Benitez Calderon is one of four people still missing in Montecito. 

Victor Benitez, who is Jonathan’s father and Faviola’s husband survived the mudslide with his brother Antonio.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Benitez brothers during this difficult time. 

Jonathon’s mother Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28, is still missing.


Joseph "Joe" Francis Bleckel, 87

Bleckel was found Friday morning in his Romero Canyon home four days after the mudslides hit. 

He 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.

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.

Bleckel and his late wife did not have any children yet he is survived by 20 nieces and nephews.

KSBY Reporter Megan Abundis spoke with Bleckel’s family about his legacy. 


Pinit "Oom" Sutthithepa, 30 | Peerawat "Pasta" Sutthithepa, 6 | Richard "Loring" Taylor, 79 

The community learned of Richard "Loring" Taylor and Peerawat "Pasta" Sutthithepa’s deaths just hours after the mudslide pummeled Montecito neighborhoods Tuesday. 

Family tells KSBY Taylor’s wife, Perm, was away at work along with his daughter-in-law Aw when the mudslides hit and survived. 

Taylor was home with his son-in-law Pinit "Oom" Suttithepa and his grandchildren Peerawat "Pasta" Sutthithepa and Lydia Suttithepa. Another relative was also home and was safely rescued by firefighters. 

The bodies of Taylor and Pasta were recovered Tuesday. 

Family members tell KSBY they will always remember Taylor as "joyous and caring." 

On Saturday afternoon, Pinit "Oom" Sutthithepa’s body was found.

KSBY spoke with people close to the Sutthithepa family who are still in disbelief and heartbroken by this tragedy

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 month before the mudslides hit, the Sutthithepa family evacuated to a Red Cross shelter when the Thomas Fire threatened their home.

Family remembers Taylor as a highly educated man who taught English literature at the collegiate level. The Fulbright scholar taught abroad in Romania, Jordan, Yemen and Oman. 

"Richard Taylor and his family were amazing people. My heart breaks for Perm & Aw. They lost their entire family. Richard, Oom, their children Pasta & Lydia” – Paul Knightley, a long-time neighbor

Loring Taylor is survived by his daughter Freya and wife Perm. 

Pinit "Oom" Sutthithepa was a devoted father of two and dedicated employee of Toyota Santa Barbara. 

Grieving coworkers from Toyota have set up a Go Fund Me page to help the Sutthithepa family. 

Sutthithepa’s two-year-old daughter Lydia is still missing. 


Rebecca Riskin, 61 

The community is remembering local real estate agent, wife, sister and mother Rebecca Riskin. Colleagues from the real estate company she owned confirmed her death on Facebook.

Her partners wrote: "Per her wishes, we intend to carry out her life’s work with the same strength, grace and elegance that wholly defined Rebecca. 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." 

Riskin was swept away after the mudslides tore through her living room. Her husband survived the mudslide because he was in bed in another part of the house. 

She was a former-ballerina and the founder of a high-end real estate firm.

Her friends said she 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 is survived by her husband, two children and grandson.


Sawyer Corey, 12 | Morgan Corey, 25

Step-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 morning in mud and debris.

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

"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," said Morgan’s biological sister Taylor Owens in a statement to KSBY. 

The girls’ father, David Corey, gave a statement to KSBY at a vigil in Santa Barbara Sunday night. 

"We have hope in the full recovery of [Morgan and Sawyer’s] sister Summer and her mother Carie, that by some miracle were spared the same fate," he said. 

Two fundraising pages have been set up for the family. 

This account is raising funds for Summer Corey’s recovery and to set up a foundation to honor Morgan and Sawyer Corey. 

This account is raising funds for Carie Baker, Sawyer and Summer’s mother, who is still recovering from injuries sustained in the mudslide. 


Peter Fleurat, 73

Peter Fleurat was asleep in his Hot Springs Road home with his life partner of 17 years, Ralph "Lalo" Barajas, when the flash flood hit.

The couple felt the floor beneath them shake before a wall of mud burst through and swept him and 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 is the owner of The Rose Cafe, 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.

The restaurant posted on Facebook late Wednesday saying they would remain open, "keeping Lalo’s pride and joy going while he tries to cope with this tragic loss." 

Friends and family of longtime Montecito resident Peter Fleurat are remembering him for his unforgettable laugh, love of world travel, passion for the environment and his fun, loving personality. 

Fleurat moved to Santa Barbara in the 1970s and studied nursing at Santa Barbara City College. He worked as an end-of-life caretaker. Fleurat was married to Dorothy Lutz Fleurat for 17 years and recently spread her ashes. 

KSBY News spoke with a longtime friend of Fleurat’s the day his body was found. 


James "Jim" Mitchell, 89 | Alice Mitchell, 78 

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 mixed toy poodle Gigi.

KSBY News learned Wednesday night that the Mitchells died in the mudslide when it hit their Hot Springs Road home. Family members says the couple’s bodies were found on Olive Mill Road.

Jim and Alice moved to Montecito in 1995 after raising their two children in Orange County.

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.

Jim worked in labor relations and was known for his love of cars and took pride in his Cadillac and two Mercedes.

Alice was a beloved schoolteacher and proud grandmother. 

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

KSBY reporter Brooke Martell spoke with the Mitchells’ daughter hours before their bodies were found. 


Dr. Mark Montgomery, 54 | Caroline Montgomery, 22 

Dr. Mark Montgomery and his family returned from a Brazilian vacation only two days before the mudslide that killed him and daughter Caroline. 

The debris flow 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. Caroline died in her younger brother’s arms. 

Dr. Montgomery is being remembered by many in Santa Barbara County as an excellent and talented physician. 

“He fixed my hand after a camping accident in 2012, two weeks before my wedding,” David Iglesias told KSBY News. “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."

Caroline had just finished her senior year studying psychology at Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts college in New York City. 

The school newspaper she wrote for said in an article about her death that Caroline was passionate about fashion, writing and loved playing water polo. 


Josephine "Josie" Gower, 69 

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

She was in an evacuation warning zone when the mudslide ripped through her home.

Her son Hayden searched for her all day Wednesday until her body was found near Highway 101. 

KSBY reporter Fabiola Ramirez spoke with Hayden Gower hours before rescue crews discovered his mother’s body. 

The grandmother of three was known for always being active, her love of swimming and making new friends.

Gower was semi-retired but had a career as a nurse.

Family members say she loved spending time with her grandchildren and at the YMCA.

Gower is survived by her boyfriend, son, daughter and three grandchildren. 

Her boyfriend was the last person to see her Tuesday morning. 

KSBY reporter Brooke Martell spoke with Gower’s son the day after learning of her death. 


John McManigal, 61 

Friends and family remembered John McManigal as a dedicated family man who died trying to help one of his six children flee the 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 escape.

He was killed. His son, carried a mile by the mud, survived.

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

A Go Fund Me page has been set up for McManigal’s family. 

A memorial service will be held for John McManigal Saturday, January 20 at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara at 2 p.m. 


Martín Cabrera Munoz, 48

Family members of Martín Cabrera Munoz learned of his death Tuesday after the mudslide demolished his home on East Valley Road. 

A rosary for Munoz will be held Tuesday, January 16 at Our Lady of Guadalupe at 7 p.m. 

His mass will be Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

His younger siblings have established a Go Fund Me page to help cover costs for his final arrangements. 

"This was all sudden to us and unfortunately we don’t have the funds for our brother’s services," Munoz’s brother Joel writes on the fundraising page.

The family originally planned to cremate Munoz because they could afford that more easily. 

However, thanks to the generosity of the community, the family now hopes to have enough money to give Munoz a traditional burial. 

"Our family thanks every single one of you that has helped us through this tough time," said a family member on the Go Fund Me page.


Roy Rohter, 84 

Santa Barbara and Ventura county residents are mourning a man known for helping others.

Roy Rohter was a former real estate broker that had fled his Montecito home just last month when it came under threat from a wildfire. He died at that home.

Rohter founded the St. Augustine Academy in Ventura and was a major proponent of the Catholic education system.

Rohtor’s wife Theresa was injured in the storm and hospitalized.

Rohter is survived by three children and several grandchildren.  


David "Dave" Cantin, 49 

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.

KSBY News interviewed Cantin in 2015 when he helped save a scout who was bitten by a rattlesnake. 

The mudslide also buried his daughter and his wife before crews rescued them hours later. 

The rescue of his daughter, 14-year-old Lauren Cantin, was seen the world over. 

She was rescued early Tuesday morning from beneath a heaping pile of debris. Amazingly, she made it out alive. 

His wife Kim also survived the mudslide but is still waiting for rescue crews to find her 17-year-old son, Jack. 

A Go Fund Me page has been established to help Kim and Lauren Cantin during this tragic time. 

John "Jack" Cantin is one of four people still missing.

Crews are now in recovery mode, meaning they do not expect to find survivors. 

UPDATE: 

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday afternoon previously missing person John “Jack” Keating has been safely located.