Letters From a Bus
January 2008: Heading Home
4th entry for January

Brandon Jeffery Sutter Memorial

Mountain View, CA, Day 23 at Walton & Sons Masonry, Site: 1

Monday, January 28, 2008 — Eight Months

Jan. 20. News of the Death of Brandon Jeffery Sutter — b. 1 Dec. 1979, d. 19 Jan. 2008

On Sunday, January 20, we had a little party on the bus to watch the Super Bowl finals with James and Lilia and Brent.

The day did not end well.  Sunday night I got a call from my close friend, Dale Dunlap.  She told me that her son, Brandon, died Saturday night.  He was 28 years old, her middle child and her youngest son.  She asked me if I would come into her place of business, Custom Fitness, on Monday morning to handle the desk and the phones.  I said yes. 

Monday morning Dale gave me a list of clients with either phone numbers or email addresses so that I could contact them to give them the news and cancel Dale’s personal training appointments.  Dale was trying to extricate herself from the studio and she was like a programmed robot.  I hastened to get her out of there as soon as possible.  I got more details at that time. 

Brandon drove to Big Sur for the weekend.  Big Sur is a gorgeous scenic area located on Highway One about 150 miles south of San Francisco. Friday night he listened to music at Fernwood with a musician friend from one of his former bands. Located on Big Sur River, Fernwood offers camping and motel rooms in the Ventana Wilderness. It is near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. With hidden beaches and views above from redwood forest trails you can't ask for a more beautiful place to camp. Another friend joined them on Saturday and they spent the day at a camp up in the Santa Lucia Mts.

Saturday night they decided to head for home and were driving back down from their camp. Brandon was tired and he let one of his friends drive his Bronco. He fell asleep on the back seat. At 7:30 PM on So. Coast Ridge Rd., a narrow, windy, dirt road about 13 miles south of Nacimieto-Ferguson Rd. and somewhere east of Gorda, his friend hit an obstacle and rolled the Bronco. It tumbled 350 feet down the slope.  Brandon was thrown clear, hit his head and died instantly.  The driver survived.  The third guy drove his own vehicle, witnessed the accident and called 911.  The boys didn't know exactly where they were so it took three hours for rescue units to arrive.  They had to be extricated by helicopter.  Ray called Brandon’s girlfriend, Nadine, and she had to call Dale to give her the terrible news.

Dale’s eldest, Jason, and her youngest, Colleen, both live in Santa Cruz.  On Sunday while we were watching the game she spent the day in Santa Cruz with her family and close friends.  It was a day of terrible grief interspersed with waiting for more specific information — information that wouldn't be available until Tuesday because of the holiday.  The coroner planned an autopsy.  Brandon’s body could not be released until Wednesday.

I was struck down all week as a memorial service was planned for Saturday January 26th.  I did not know what I could do to help Dale.  Once she was able to be away from her business and her clients I think she cried nonstop for the entire week.  The shock of this tragedy brought terrible grief. However, together with friends the family produced a beautiful and loving memorial.  It was heart wrenching for me to watch because they could hardly speak for their tears. Dale's brother, Dana, opened with a moving eulogy. Colleen, Brandon's sister, gave a beautiful talk about her brother (reprinted here) and ended by singing a song as a tribute to him.

Brandon was the kind of person that lived every moment to the fullest extent.  His family will miss his rare spirit for the rest of their lives.

In honor of Brandon, I include the following photos and text.

A memorial for Brandon was held in the Dana Center at Hidden Villa in Los Altos. Hidden Villa offers camps and environmental education. Brandon was a volunteer at Hidden Villa, helping with the gardens, animals and trail maintenance. Standing on the table, the family made cardboard standup shapes of the letters, BRANDON. Each letter is covered with photos. In front, each member of the family has their own little urn in which they will keep some of Brandon's ashes. A slide show gave us images of Brandon as both man and boy.
The family also assembled photos of Brandon and his many activities on a posterboard display. Brandon was primarily a talented musician who played the drums in several local bands. He loved nature and he pursued a hobby of photography. After the eulogy and open sharing the family and Brandon's many young friends, in his memory, planted a live oak together with some of his ashes. A group of young men are gathered by the tree in the distance at the end of the path. Dale's close friends, Frank and Serena talk on the deck outside of the Dana Center after the memorial.
More than 100 mourners filled the room and overflowed onto the deck. Many accepted paper and pencil and wrote a personal note to Brandon which they placed in the fireplace at the center.
Dennis speaks with Brandon's dad, Mark Sutter. Many people brought food to share.

"For Brandon" by his sister, Colleen Sutter

Brandon was everything anyone could ask for in a brother- a role-model, a mentor, and a best friend all mixed with the perfect touch of compassion, sensitivity, humor and pain-in-the-assness.  He was always full of energy, needing to live in the moment and get immediate satisfaction from everything he did. I always admired how he was able to just live. He was damned if he was going to let the monotonies of the modern work world chew him up and spit him out as a tired and trapped individual working 9-5. He was always DOING, thinking, dreaming, and changing. He was constantly trying to better himself both physically and spiritually.

My mom tells me when I was born he was disappointed because he didn’t have an instant play pal. Once I was old enough, we spent countless hours goofing off, wrestling, playing board games or video games, jumping on the trampoline, and having nerf gun fights. I always emulated him, wearing the same clothes, listening to the same music, while also making sure to get on his nerves and never leave him alone. When we got older Brandon was the person I would call when I was bored, or lonely, or feeling up for an adventure. I always knew that if my brother was available, we would be hanging out right away- skateboarding, bike riding, hiking, or just grabbing a bite to eat before work. Even though he was the coolest man I knew, he was never too cool for his little sis- he befriended my friends, and I his.

I never took what I had with Brandon for granted. I always understood how special and unique our relationship was- constantly reflecting and sharing with my friends what an amazing person he was to me. My brother was never afraid or too proud to tell me he loved me or cared about me. I once wrote in a journal that he was my lifeline in my family, that both my bros were. I truly looked up to Brandon, he was my inspiration. I was always so proud of him. I loved watching him play drums in every band he had. I always wished I could be as bold and as musically talented as him.

Brandon was one of a kind. His existence was an amplification of every feeling and action humanly possible. When he smiled his dimples highlighted his happiness, when he cried his sorrow swallowed the room, when he told a joke we rolled with laughter, and when he punched someone, he did it with conviction! This made him an extraordinarily talented, ambitious, bright and charming individual who left a lasting impression on everyone he knew. I love you Brandon.

I'm going to leave you with a piece of one of my writings that was inspired by Brandon. We would often talk to one another to help make sense of the world around us. Brandon and I talked about our disillusionment with the modern world, and our longing for simplicity and serenity in the busy chaos around us.

"The meaning of life for me is creating lasting relationships, connections, friendships and love with people and the natural world. The meaning of life for me is happiness. I do not need stuff to be happy. I need people, and animals and trees, and the ocean, and wind, and sun, and passion. I have not figured out how to achieve the meaning of life, but I know it is allowed to occur better in less disturbed places - in places where interactions among people can be meaningful, and connections can be felt between humans and the living, breathing, moving earth that sustains us."

R.I.P-   Brandon Jeffery Sutter-   December 1, 1979 - January 19, 2008.

Written by and read aloud
by Brandon's younger sister, Colleen Sutter,
at his memorial service on Saturday, January 26, 2008.

Brandon and Colleen Sutter sitting with Uncle Dana's dog at his home in Santa Fe on Thanksgiving Day. 11/22/07
Brandon Sutter; A Photo Album
A Cute Kid
Young Brandon with little sister, Colleen. Young Brandon with big brother, Jason.
Talented Drummer & Musician
Camper, Nature-lover, Environmentalist & Volunteer at Hidden Villa
Loving Son & Brother
Brandon with his mother, Dale.
Full of Life — A Great Friend
Brandon & Nadine; A Loving Couple
The live oak tree planted at Hidden Villa, Los Altos, CA in Brandon's memory will have a plaque:

In Loving Memory of Brandon Sutter
Musician, Nature-lover, Photographer, Loving Son, Brother and Friend
December 1, 1979 - January 19, 2008

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in every moment."
—Henry David Thoreau

Elsa Walton, Walton Masonry, Mountain View, CA, Monday, February 4, 2008