California mudslide victims include founder of Catholic school, 'first lady' of luxury real estate

The founder of a Catholic school and a woman known as the "first lady" of luxury real estate were among 17 people — ages 3 to 89 — who were killed when a powerful mudslide tore through a wealthy coastal enclave in Southern California.

Hundreds of searchers continued digging through knee-deep ooze Thursday looking for survivors, as the people reported missing has dropped to eight and the names of those killed began to trickle out.

Roy Rohter, 84, died early Tuesday when he was swept from his Montecito home alongside his wife, according to a statement from Saint Augustine Academy, which he founded in Ventura in 1994.

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Roy Rohter, who founded St. Augustine Academy, died when a mudslide in Montecito swept him from his home.  (Saint Augustine Academy )

“Roy Rohter was a man of strong faith and a great friend of Catholic education,” Michael F. McLean, president of the college, said in a statement posted on the school’s website Wednesday.

Rohter's wife, Theresa, was rescued from the torrent of mud, boulders and other debris and was in stable condition, the Academy said.

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Roy Rohter, right, and his wife Theresa were swept from their home in Montecito early Tuesday.  (Saint Augustine Academy)

Michael Van Hecke, the school's headmaster, said in a statement that Rohter lived his life "in service to his good, loving and ever-forgiving God."

"He has done so much for so many people and pro-life and Catholic education causes. Thousands have been blessed by the Rohters' friendship and generosity," he said.


A woman known as the "first lady of luxury real estate" was killed when the mudslide pounded the town of 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles, which is home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

Rebecca Riskin, 61, of Riskin Partners in Montecito, died early Tuesday, her real estate group confirmed in a Facebook post.

Riskin was a professional ballerina before she earned the "first lady" moniker, according to KEYT. She sold more than $2.17 billion in real estate during her career.

"Per her wishes, we intend to carry out her life’s work with the same strength, grace and elegance that wholly defined Rebecca," Riskin Partners said in its Facebook post. "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."

The other victims identified are: Jonathan Benitez, 10; Kailly Benitez, 3; Martin Cabrera-Munoz, 48; David Cantin, 49; Sawyer Corey, 12; Peter Fleurat, 73; Josephine Gower, 69; John McManigal, 61; Alice Mitchell, 78; James Mitchell, 89; Mark Montgomery, 54; Caroline Montgomery, 22; Marilyn Ramos, 27; Peerawat Sutthithepn, 6; and Richard Taylor, 67.

The company that employs the mother of a 14-year-old girl who was dramatically pulled from a California home that collapsed in a mudslide says the girl's father and 16-year-old brother are still missing.

NeoTract, a maker of devices used in the medical field of urology, has launched a GoFundMe page asking for financial support for the family of Kim Cantin. 

Cantin's 14-year-old daughter, Lauren, was rescued by firefighters this week after being trapped for hours. The house was flattened hours earlier by the deadly storm-triggered mudslide that ravaged the Montecito area.

"I thought I was dead for a minute," the dazed girl, covered in mud, told firefighters before she was taken away in an ambulance.

Meanwhile, hundreds of searchers from around the state continued to dig through the mud and wreckage left by the flash flooding, poking long poles into the mud to probe for victims. The death toll from Tuesday's pre-dawn flash flood rose to 17 on Wednesday as more bodies were found. Authorities said Thursday that 43 people are possibly missing.

"We've gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud," said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief. "The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream. It's crusty on top but soft underneath, so we're having to be very careful."


Authorities identified 17 people killed by California mudslides, who range in age from 3 to 89.  (Rafael Maldonado/Santa Barbara News-Press)

A dozen people were hospitalized at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and four were in critical condition, Dr. Brett Wilson said at a news conference.

People in Montecito had counted themselves lucky last month after the biggest wildfire in California history spared the town, but it was the fire that led to the mudslide, by burning away vegetation.


Only an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of residents fled when ordered and much of the damage occurred where evacuations were voluntary.  (Rafael Maldonado/Santa Barbara News-Press)

Only an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of residents fled when ordered and much of the damage occurred where evacuations were voluntary. Rescue crews worked up to 12 hours a day and risked stepping on nails or shattered glass, or being exposed to raw sewage, or dealing with leaking gas, Deputy Dan Page, chief of the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team of the Los Angeles said.

Fox News' Nicole Darrah and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @travfed