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Local News

Devastated Sutthithepa-Taylor Family Remembered in Heartfelt Memorial at Santa Barbara Zoo

Community turns out by the hundreds to pay tribute to four family members — from three generations — who were swept to their deaths in the Jan. 9 flash flooding in Montecito

Cold Spring School kindergarten teacher Lisa Ishikawa reads a tribute to 6-year-old Peerawat “Pasta” Sutthithepa, a student of hers who was one of four family members to perish in the deadly Jan. 9 flash flooding and mud flows in Montecito. Afterward, she and Pasta’s classmates sang a song in his honor. Click to view larger
Cold Spring School kindergarten teacher Lisa Ishikawa reads a tribute to 6-year-old Peerawat “Pasta” Sutthithepa, a student of hers who was one of four family members to perish in the deadly Jan. 9 flash flooding and mud flows in Montecito. Afterward, she and Pasta’s classmates sang a song in his honor. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Community members gathered Sunday evening at the Santa Barbara Zoo to share memories and remember four members of the Sutthithepa-Taylor family, which was torn apart by last month’s flash flooding and debris flows in Montecito.

Pinit “Oom” Sutthithepa, 30; his 6-year-old son, Peerawat, known as “Pasta”; and his father-in-law, Richard Loring Taylor, 79, were killed in the Jan. 9 disaster. His 2-year-old daughter, Lydia, is one of two victims still missing more than a month later.

The flash floods and mud and debris flows killed 23 people, destroyed more than 100 homes and damaged hundreds more on that fateful day.

The mountains above Montecito had been almost completely denuded by the Thomas Fire, which burned through the area on Dec. 16, and heavy rains in the early morning hours of Jan. 9 started a cascade of unfathomable death and destruction.

Mike Caldwell, general manager at Toyota of Santa Barbara and Sutthithepa’s supervisor, welcomed a couple of hundred people assembled on the zoo’s hilltop lawn.

He shared stories of Sutthithepa, noting he was a dedicated three-year employee who was full of life and loved his family.

Caldwell said a co-worker remembers him as a “warm and kind man” with an unforgettable smile. Another co-worker described him as “genuine, respectful, honest and hardworking.”

“He was well loved among all of us who worked with him,” Caldwell told the crowd. “He would do everything with the brightest smile. He was a wonderful man, and had a beautiful family.”

Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni recalled the morning of Jan. 9 near Olive Mill Road and the Union Pacific railroad tracks, where he found Pasta’s body — more than a mile from his home in the Old Spanish Town neighborhood on East Valley Road west of Parra Grande Lane.

“I was flagged down by a few people — I waded through the mud and debris — and they brought me to a little boy,” Zaniboni said. “That little boy was Pasta.

“I spent a lot of time with him to get him transported somewhere safe.”

Mike Caldwell was one of the organizers of Sunday’s memorial service for the Sutthithepa-Taylor family at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Caldwell, general manager of Toyota of Santa Barbara, supervised Pinit “Oom” Sutthithepa, who died in the Jan. 9 flash flooding and mud flows in Montecito, along with his 6-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter and 79-year-old father-in-law. “He was well loved among all of us who worked with him,” Caldwell said. “He would do everything with the brightest smile. He was a wonderful man, and had a beautiful family.” Click to view larger
Mike Caldwell was one of the organizers of Sunday’s memorial service for the Sutthithepa-Taylor family at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Caldwell, general manager of Toyota of Santa Barbara, supervised Pinit “Oom” Sutthithepa, who died in the Jan. 9 flash flooding and mud flows in Montecito, along with his 6-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter and 79-year-old father-in-law. “He was well loved among all of us who worked with him,” Caldwell said. “He would do everything with the brightest smile. He was a wonderful man, and had a beautiful family.” (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

After a few days, Zaniboni said, he was able to connect with the boy’s family.

Sutthithepa’s wife, Yuphawan (“Aw”), and his mother, Banphoem (“Perm”), escaped the destruction. The two Vons employees were working an overnight shift at the grocery store when the heavy rains struck.

Zaniboni said a third family member was at the house but somehow survived the onslaught. He said she was rescued later that morning by Montecito firefighters.

The woman suffered major injuries and spent “nearly two weeks in the hospital,” he added.

Surviving family members shared stories and videos with Zaniboni.

“It did something in my heart that I’ve never had happened before,” he said. “There were a lot of tears by all of us. From that point on, I feel like I’m part of this family.”

Zaniboni said it was “surreal” to witness the destruction in Montecito following the debris flows.

“Every first responder saw horrible things, and devastation that’s unspeakable,” he recalled.

Lisa Ishikawa was Pasta’s kindergarten teacher at Cold Spring School in Montecito, and she recognized his academic achievements as well as the kindness of his grandfather, who usually brought the youngster to school in the morning.

“He had a beautiful smile,” Ishikawa said of her student. “It was a privilege and pleasure to be his teacher.”

Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni recovered the body of 6-year-old Peerawat “Pasta” Sutthithepa and has since grown close to his mother and grandmother, both of whom were at work when the flash flooding and mud flows swept away the family. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni recovered the body of 6-year-old Peerawat “Pasta” Sutthithepa and has since grown close to his mother and grandmother, both of whom were at work when the flash flooding and mud flows swept away the family. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

A handful of Cold Spring students sang a song to the crowd during the memorial.

Resident Alan Keyser read thoughts from Sutthithepa’s widow.

Keyser told the crowd that Sutthithepa was born in Thailand and he attended elementary school there. He immigrated to the United States when he was 15 years old, and graduated from Santa Barbara High School.

Sutthithepa married Aw in 2009, Keyser said, adding that he was a “good husband and father.”

He said Pasta enjoyed trains, and was smart, kind and loving. He aspired to be an art teacher because he loved to draw, he added.

Dumplings, spicy noodles and popsicles were his favorite foods.

“It’s sad his life was so short,” Keyser said.

Lydia was described as cheerful. She enjoyed playing with her older brother and riding a blue scooter with princess stickers. She liked eating strawberries, according to Keyser.

“We all pray that she will be found soon,” Keyser said. “The little princess is gone away without knowing where she is.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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