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Sandy man killed in collapse remembered as loving father, beloved friend

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013 5:45 p.m. MST

SANDY — Saofai Sautia was the kind of father who lived for his three girls.

"Whatever they wanted, he did," Dana Sautia said of her husband Wednesday. "He was just a really loving father. ... He was all about his kids."

The 39-year-old Sandy man died Tuesday when the roof collapsed on a former Kmart at 989 S. Main in Brigham City. Sautia was there as an employee of the Penthall Company, where the man had worked since 1999.

Ricki Ankers, who has counted Sautia, or "Smurf," as a close friend, said he was in class at the University of Phoenix when he saw he had several missed calls. He arrived home and his wife sat him down and showed him a news report.

"As soon as I heard the building had collapsed and (my wife) didn't say anything, it just fell into place," Ankers said. "I knew he was working that construction site."

Brigham City fire officials said they did not know why Sautia was in the building when the southern half of the building's roof collapsed around 3 p.m.

"Apparently the job was done," brother-in-law Craig Baker said. "He had left to use the restroom because there were no on-site facilities and then he came back and obviously entered the building for reasons that are unknown."

Baker said Sautia had previously told the other men on his crew not to go inside the building. When he was unaccounted for after the collapse, searchers started to "ping" his cellphone and were able to isolate it to the collapsed building.

Three construction workers were on the roof at the time of the collapse but were not hurt. Police are still investigating whether the collapse was caused by the crew's preparation to demolish the building or the heavy layer of snow on the roof.

Baker said those at the scene told the family that Sautia had voiced concerns about the project, due to the snow and ice on the roof. But he was an expert in his field and apparently decided they could proceed.

"He was a tremendous worker," Baker said. "It was rare I got to hang out with him because he worked so many hours. His biggest concern was his wife and three daughters and providing for them."

Dana Sautia cried as she described her husband and his relationship with their daughters, ages 3, 8 and 13.

"He was just really loving," she said. "He was a friend to everybody and he had friends from all walks of life. He didn't judge anybody and he would stop for anybody that needed help even if that meant the last money in his wallet."

Ankers said Sautia's impact went beyond friendship. "Smurf" was more "a powerful force in his life."

"I just know that I've never heard him say a bad word about another person," Ankers said. "His smile lifted other people and they wanted to hang out with him and be around him and missed him when he wasn't around. My life was touched by him. I thought he would live happily ever after doing all the right things."

He said the man loved his family, his children and barbecuing. He wasn't a religious person, but was "spiritual," Ankers said.

The two became friends during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"It was just an instant connection," Ankers said. "I was just so struck by how warm and generous he was and he has this wonderful big smile and laugh. People just warmed up to him."

He said the two also worked for a driving service and that Sautia missed a 6 a.m. pickup recently because the work ticket said it was a 6 p.m. pickup. Even after everyone, including his boss, told him it wasn't his fault, he still felt guilty.

"He owned people's struggles and needs and he was so giving and kind to go make sure those needs were met," Ankers said. "That's the kind of person he was."

Brigham City fire officials said Wednesday that the investigation into the roof collapse has been turned over to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which will  work with the contractors working at the site. Reynolds Excavation, Demolition & Utilities is the primary contractor for the demolition.

Penthall Company had been subcontracted by Reynolds.

The family has set up an account for donations at Mountain America Credit Union under Soafai (Smurf) Sautia's name.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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