Paul Caouette, whose father was the last victim in the worst mass slayings in Orange County history, has involved himself in the campaign to build a memorial to the eight who lost their lives in Seal Beach that fateful October 2011 day. But when it comes to being the driving force behind raising funds for the Salon Meritage monument, Caouette politely points to a local clothing company that's big with bikers, rockers and the mixed martial arts crowd.
The campaign to build the memorial was actually started by the Seal Beach City Council, which formed a citizens committee a couple years ago that has resulted in an approved design for a tasteful heart-shaped marker and eight benches at Eisenhower Park, which overlooks Seal Beach Pier and includes beach access.
But while officials have indicated the city will likely come up with any funding for what is known as the Support in Love Memorial Plaza that is not raised independently, in these days of tight budgets those same officials are hoping as much as possible can come from the community and not the general fund.
And that is where Affliction has stepped in big time. We told you in March about the special t-shirts the clothing company makes and sells and donates proceeds from for the memorial.
"They sell very, very well," says Affliction's Erin Morris as she stood with Caouette a few feet from the display table holding the shirts. "People call in from out of state who have seen them on the website. There are some regulars who come in once a week and buy six or seven shirts at a time."
Caouette, who moved back down to Orange County from Pismo Beach hours after his father David was gunned down and has not left since, got to know the Affliction folks through city officials. He says the Afflictees came to him two years ago with the idea of some kind of event to raise even more toward the expected $100,000 cost of the Salon Meritage memorial. The fruits of much labor will result in the City of Seal Beach & Affliction Memorial Fundraiser & Block Party on June 28.
"The event is much larger than what I anticipated it was going to be," says Caouette from the Affliction parking lot. "The support has been incredible."
He estimates four or five people first started working on the event a couple years back, and that has grown to about a dozen now. He and Morris led a tour around the company's massive white building that houses its retail, office, warehouse and gym spaces, to show where the show's attractions will be located.
About 200 cars, motorcycles, trucks and even airplanes if someone wants to bring them will be wrapped around the building at 1799 Apollo Court (which is off Apollo Drive and Westminster Boulevard; do not make the mistake I did in trying to reach it via Apollo Drive and Seal Beach Boulevard).
Live music will be on a stage set up on the opposite side of the Affliction retail store entrance or the building's backside. Other parts of the Affliction lot and those of neighboring businesses will be used for vendor and sponsor booths and a children's play area with bounce houses. A side street will be filled with food trucks that will open up toward the sidewalks, where visitors can safely line up.
Inside the sprawling Affliction building artwork will be on display and UFC fighters affiliated with the brand will participate in meet-and-greets with fans. If you're wondering, given all this carnival-like activity, whether there will be enough parking, fear not: Boeing is donating its ginormous lot across the street from Affliction for the event.
Like Caouette, Morris is blown away by the support that has been literally pouring in from the community.
"A lot of local companies reached out to us to donate," she says. "Even the beer is donated. It really is a community effort."
The youth center in Los Alamitos, Beach Fitness, Dax Gallery, Southland Credit Union, Pabst Blue Ribbon, St. Michelle Winery, Heineken and Pacific Cove Estates, where Caouette works as a real estate sales professional, are among these sponsors. Sir Speedy is providing all printed material needed at and to promote the event. Spaghettini restaurant is feeding staff and volunteers breakfast the day of the car show.
Bands are still be firmed up and will be announced via Affliction's social media sites before the event, which runs from noon to 7 p.m. on June 28, which is a Saturday. Caouette is also looking beyond that day, hoping the car show can become an annual fund-raising event.
"There are different ideas on where the proceeds would go," he says. "Scholarship funds are one idea, and they would go to everyone involved: police, firefighters, other first responders and the families who need the support for their kids. I'd definitely like to see that happen. There are definitely some who need the help."
Of course, those who can't attend can still give the old fashioned way: Simply write out a check, note it is for the Support in Love Memorial Plaza and mail it to Seal Beach City Hall, 211 Eighth St., Seal Beach, CA 90740.
But if you only do that, you'll be missing a rockin', sockin', feastin', playin', MMA'n blow out. For a very good cause. Check out the memorial on the next page ...
Caouette, who grew up in Seal Beach, had been living and working in real estate and construction in Pismo Beach for 17 years when he got the call from his mother that his father's Land Rover was shown in the live television news coverage of the mass shooting at Salon Meritage.
One of the window's of David Caouette's distinct Land Rover had been shot out.
A friend in Orange County later called and told Paul Caouette to come down immediately, that his dad had been shot and his family needed him. He actually found out before other family members did that his dad was among the deceased, being informed by a friend in law enforcement in the San Luis Obispo area.
He decided that night he would move back as, "My dad said a long time ago if anything happens, take care of the girls." The girls are his mother, Paula, and sister, Katie.
Paul and his family eventually settled in Costa Mesa. He'd already been working from Pismo with longtime friends who'd started the Pacific Coast Estates real estate company in Newport Beach. That's where he works now. "It was an easy transition," Caouette says.
Scott Evans Dekraai is believed to have killed his ex-wife, and everyone else he could in the salon where she worked, over a custody battle. No one may ever know why the confessed mass killer shot and killed Dave Caouette, who was sitting in his Land Rover. Paul mentions one theory is Dekraai believed his father was a member of law enforcement. A former Navy Seal, he looked the part, and so did his built-out Land Rover.
"Wrong place, wrong time," Paul Caouette says.
His parents had been together since they were 12 and 13.
Besides plunging himself into seeing through the memorial and the fund-raising event with Affliction, Caouette has attended many of Dekraai's court hearings. Through this he has grown close to Paul Wilson, whose wife Christy Lynn Wilson was among those murdered, and the Fannin family, whose patriarch and Salon Meritage owner Randy Lee Fannin was also gunned down.
Also killed that day was Michelle Daschbach Fast, Lucia Bernice Kondas, Laura Lee Elody Webb, Victoria Ann Buzzo and Dekraai's ex-, Michelle Marie Fournier. Dekraai is also accused of trying to kill Hattie Stretz, who was having her hair done by her daughter Laura Webb, but the 73-year-old miraculously survived her injuries. Paul Caouette says he has also grown close to Hattie and her husband Tom Stretz.
"Hattie is a real trooper," Caouette says. "Her strength is amazing."
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Caouette says the victim family members he is closest to are generally the same people he sees at the various court hearings for Dekraai. Count Caouette among the family members who want Dekraai to receive the death penalty. It's not because Caouette believes Dekraai will ever get executed but because the inmate would be less comfortable on death row for life. Plus, he'd have that tag: death row inmate.
The amount of work and interest in the memorial has varied from family to family, according to Caouette, who says some were only involved early on to get the ball rolling, some came in around the time the idea for the upcoming event was first floated and some have been with it throughout.
Paul credits Tom Stretz with really stepping up over the past month to bring in the Los Alamitos youth center, which has resulted in more sponsors coming forward. Caouette has found the city of Seal Beach and its City Council "awesome through this whole process."