They called him “Smurf,” but there wasn’t much that was little about Saofai Sautia. He was a big man with a big heart and a big sense of humor.
The 39-year-old demolition worker from Sandy died after the roof of an old Kmart building in Brigham City collapsed during a planned demolition Tuesday. He left behind his wife Dana and their three daughters, ages 13, 9 and 3.
“He was a doting father,” said Sautia’s brother-in-law Craig Baker on Wednesday. “He was really protective of his girls.”
Sautia moved to Utah from Compton, Calif., when he was younger. According to Baker, Sautia experienced a tough childhood and sought a better life for himself in Utah.
“He was just kind of this very unassuming, hard-working guy,” Baker said. Sautia had worked in demolition since 2004 and was employed with Penhall Company at the time of his death. He was always conscientious about safety, Baker said. It’s been hard for the family to figure out exactly what led to Sautia’s death.
The circumstances surrounding the collapse are still under investigation. Mike Meagan, a spokesman for Penhall, said the company would not be releasing any information Wednesday about why or how the roof collapsed while Sautia was still inside the building.
Dale Smith of Brigham City Emergency Services said that city officials have handed the investigation over to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and that he wasn’t clear on the cause of the collapse.
For now, the family can take solace in the memories Sautia left behind. One that stood out for Baker was the friendly rivalry they shared over sports. Staying true to his southern California roots, Sautia was a loyal Los Angeles Lakers fan. Baker would root for his home team, the Utah Jazz.
One year, as the Lakers and the Jazz were playing in Salt Lake City during the playoffs, Sautia sat next to Baker in a sea of Jazz fans, proudly displaying his Lakers jersey. At first, Baker thought they’d have a problem on their hands.
“By the end of the game, all the Jazz fans were high-fiving him and laughing with him.”
That’s just the kind of person he was, Baker said.
A fund has been set up to help Saofai Sautia’s family at Mountain America Credit Union. Those wishing to help can donate funds to an account set up under his name.