Just over a month after the devastating Montecito mudslides, a public memorial at the Santa Barbara Zoo honored the lost members of the Sutthithepa-Taylor family. The community gathered as close friends shared thoughts and memories of Richard “Loring” Taylor, Pinit “Oom” Sutthithepa, 6-year-old Peerawat “Pasta” Sutthithepa, and 2-year-old Lydia Sutthithepa. A tragedy described as “beyond description and without words,” the speakers reflected on the many ways that the family touched the community and how different it would be without them.
Oom Sutthithepa, 30, was known for his thorough and dutiful work at the Santa Barbara Toyota dealership. With the company for three years, Sutthithepa’s warmth, honesty, and great smile were fondly remembered by his coworkers. Above all, it was evident to others that Sutthithepa “loved, loved, loved his family,” and he would make it a priority to spend time with his wife and two kids. At 15 years old, Sutthithepa came to California from Thailand and shared a happy marriage with Yuphawan “Aw” Sutthithepa for the last eight years.
Their son, Pasta, attended Cold Spring Elementary and had been found dead a mile away from his home on the morning of January 9 by County Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni. He described his experience with Pasta and the family’s tragedy as having done “something to my heart I never had happened before; they gave me purpose and focus.” Pasta’s elementary school teacher, Lisa Ishikawa, reflected on how he was always a cheerful, positive presence, and how he “wanted everyone to be his friend and wanted to be a friend to everyone.” Ishikawa and her kindergarten students shared a song for Pasta and his family.
Ishikawa also shared memories of Pasta’s grandfather, Richard Taylor, who would drop Pasta off at school early every morning. Known as an “unconventional, adventurous, inquisitive, and terminally generous” person, Richard had retired to Montecito with his wife, Banphoem “Perm” Taylor. He spent his time reading books and with his family, including his daughter Freya.
Alan Keyser, a local resident, concluded the ceremony by sharing some words from Aw Sutthithepa, Oom’s wife. She described her daughter, Lydia, as a cheerful girl who enjoyed playing with her brother, Pasta, and recalled how she loved to eat strawberries — “just strawberries.” Aw and Oom’s mother, Perm, were working the night shift at Vons and had slept at a hotel room on the night of the destruction, keeping them from harm’s way. Lydia’s body has not yet been found. “We all pray that she will be found soon,” said Keyser. “The little princess is gone away without knowing where she is.”