Thursday September 20th, 2018 10:28PM

Ballerina turned real estate agent among mudslide victims

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) — A victim of California's deadly mudslides had celebrated his 89th birthday just hours earlier, while another was a ballerina turned real estate agent known as "The First Lady of Luxury Real Estate" in parts of Montecito, an enclave for the wealthy and famous.

Survivors included a 14-year-old girl miraculously pulled muddy and dazed from a home collapsed by the flows that killed her father.

As authorities looked for victims and residents took stock of the devastation Thursday, some were left to wonder how they survived when neighbors didn't.

Here are some of their stories:

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.

___

Lauren Cantin, 14, became the face of survival when rescuers pulled the mud-covered girl from her flattened home earlier this week. Authorities said her 49-year-old father, David, died and her 16-year-old brother, Jack, is missing.

NeoTract, a maker of devices used in the medical field of urology, launched a fundraising page Wednesday, asking for financial support for the family of Cantin's mother, Kim, a marketing executive for the company.

In its first hours, it far surpassed its goal of $20,000.

It took firefighters hours to dig Lauren out of the mud that destroyed her home.

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

___

Dr. Mark Montgomery and his 22-year-old daughter, Caroline, were among those killed in the disaster.

Mark Montgomery was a member of the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital medical staff. Hospital spokeswoman Maria Zate says Montgomery was an orthopedic surgeon with a subspecialty in hand surgery.

The 54-year-old graduated from Princeton University and Columbia University Medical School.

No information was immediately available about his daughter.

___

The hammering rain was terrifying enough, but when David Weinert saw the house across the street erupt in flames fueled by a severed gas line, he knew it was time to abandon his Montecito home.

"Load up the car, get the dogs, we're out of here," the 58-year-old shopping center developer says he told his wife.

Unfortunately, there was no place to go. A police officer told him mudslides had already blocked all the roads out of town.

After driving for a few minutes, he realized the officer was right and went home. There he saw mudslides enveloping his street.

"The winds were just crazy. Trees were cracking. It was scary all right," he said Thursday.

Weinert's house was somehow spared but one of his neighbors, Riskin, was swept to her death.

___

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 one of 17 people killed by 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 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.

___

With time running out to find any victims alive, attorney Trevor Quirk and a handful of friends donned chest-high waders, grabbed shovels and chain saws and canvassed mud-saturated streets looking for survivors.

They failed to find any Wednesday, the 41-year-old married father of three said, but didn't find any bodies either, which provided him some solace.

"You're walking around in waist-deep soup," he said of the grueling undertaking. "It's very thick mud and you're just poking around. You could be stepping on a body and not even know it. ... It's almost like being blindfolded and poking around in the dark."

The next day, the attorney from nearby Ojai turned his efforts to helping at a relief center, leaving it to authorities to search.

"At this moment we are still looking for live victims," Santa Barbara Fire Capt. Gary Pitney said Thursday. But he added that "the likelihood is increasing that we'll be finding bodies, not survivors."

___

For a time during the deadly storm, 81-year-old Paula McDonald was one of the missing, without electricity or cellphone service and unable to reach her children to say she was all right.

McDonald was still at home in a retirement community Thursday, adding there was no point in leaving now because she needs oxygen that is hard to transport to a hotel.

She took a look around outside to see just what the driving rainstorm had wrought as it triggered mudslides on hillsides laid bare by a massive wildfire last month.

"It's just incredible. Seeing pictures doesn't do it justice," she said of the downed trees, flattened houses and muddy streets. "I thought the fires were the worst things I'd seen in my life."

___

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.

___

This story has been updated to correct the name of the hospital where Dr. Mark Montgomery worked to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, not Santa Barbara College Hospital and to show the last name of the hospital's spokeswoman is Zate, not Zarte.

___

Rogers reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Krysta Fauria in Montecito and Amanda Lee Myers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Entertainment, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Ballerina turned real estate agent among mudslide victims
A ballerina turned real estate agent and a man who just celebrated his 89th birthday are among victims of the California mudslides
1:50PM ( 5 minutes ago )
NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week
NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week
1:29PM ( 27 minutes ago )
'Mississippi Burning' KKK leader Killen dies in prison at 92
State: Edgar Ray Killen, convicted in 1964 'Mississippi Burning' slayings of 3 civil rights workers, dies in prison.
1:26PM ( 29 minutes ago )
U.S. News
Tunisian govt hopes that days of food protests are subsiding
Tunisia's government says protests appear to be subsiding after anger over food prices led to days of clashes with police that left one dead, scores injured and widespread damage
1:51PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Trump's immigration remarks lambasted from left and right
President Donald Trump is denying using certain vulgar "language" amid fury over his comments during a meeting with lawmakers trying to hash out an immigration
1:40PM ( 15 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump sits for 1st medical checkup as president
Donald Trump is sitting for his first medical checkup as president at Walter Reed, undergoing a physical exam amid suggestions in a recent book and by his detractors that he's mentally unfit
1:35PM ( 20 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Doreen Tracey, an original Disney Mouseketeer, dies at 74
Doreen Tracey, a child star who played one of the original cute-as-a-button Mouseketeers on "The Mickey Mouse Club" in the 1950s, has died at 74
12:09PM ( 1 hour ago )
Fogerty irked 'Proud Mary' film borrows from his song's name
John Fogerty says he's annoyed that Taraji P. Henson's new film, 'Proud Mary,' borrows from his popular song's name without his involvement
11:52AM ( 2 hours ago )
Africa startled by Trump's sudden and vulgar attention
Africa startled by Trump's sudden and vulgar attention; 'Perfect definition of racism'
11:10AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Entertainment
Texas tycoon T. Boone Pickens shutters energy hedge fund
Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is closing his Dallas energy-focused hedge fund after what he described as "one hell of a roller coaster ride."
1:09PM ( 46 minutes ago )
Core inflation jumped a sharp 0.3 percent in December
Core inflation posted 0.3 percent increase in December, the biggest rise in 11 months
1:04PM ( 51 minutes ago )
A look at Facebook's changes over the years in what you see
A look at Facebook's changes over the years in light of the company's latest move to focus on personal connections over published articles and videos.
1:03PM ( 52 minutes ago )
AP Business
Holiday gift for retailers; sales up a solid 0.4 percent
US retail sales rose 0.4 percent in December, closing out strong holiday shopping season
11:30AM ( 2 hours ago )
Some utility rates could go down after US corporate tax cuts
Public utility regulators nationwide are re-examining rates that homeowners and businesses pay for electricity and natural gas after a federal tax overhaul signed into law by President Donald Trump reduced the corporate income tax rate by 14 percent
10:46AM ( 3 hours ago )
Utility rates under new scrutiny after US corporate tax cuts
Public utility regulators nationwide are re-examining rates that homeowners and businesses pay for electricity and natural gas after a federal tax overhaul signed into law by President Donald Trump reduced the corporate income tax rate by 14 percent
10:42AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week
NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week
1:29PM ( 27 minutes ago )
'Mississippi Burning' KKK leader Killen dies in prison at 92
State: Edgar Ray Killen, convicted in 1964 'Mississippi Burning' slayings of 3 civil rights workers, dies in prison.
1:26PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Lawmakers to Justice Department: Keep online gambling legal
Federal lawmakers from both parties in New Jersey are asking the U.S. Justice Department to keep internet gambling legal
12:29PM ( 1 hour ago )
Mississippi Burnings KKK leader Killen dies in prison at 92
State: Edgar Ray Killen, convicted in 1964 'Mississippi Burning' slayings of 3 civil rights workers, dies in prison.State: Edgar Ray Killen, convicted in 1964 'Mississippi Burning' slayings of 3 civil rights workers, dies in prison
12:25PM ( 1 hour ago )
Has flu season, in full swing, reached its height?
Flu is blanketing the US, but officials think it may decline soon
12:15PM ( 1 hour ago )