Kenny Sudduth is described by those who knew him as a fun-loving man who had a genuine care for others that was perhaps fueled by his own life’s struggles.
While his 48 years were marked by his father’s death, his own drug use and time in jail, friends and family say Kenny had his life in order and was looked up to by many when he died tragically in a single-car accident last month.
“He had some tough times in his life, but he had turned himself around,” said his mother, Rebecca Parks. “He touched a lot of lives.”
Kenneth Andrew Sudduth was born on May 1, 1967, in Sacramento, but moved with his family to Vashon when he was 3. On Vashon, his mother met and married Bill Sudduth, who adopted Ken and two of his brothers. The couple had three more children, and Kenny was part of a sprawling Sudduth clan that included many extended family members on the island.
Kenny enjoyed growing up on Vashon and was “a very happy guy, very loving, much like his father,” Parks said. “He had a great smile and a goofy laugh,” she added.
His older brother Rick Sudduth also likened Kenny to his father Bill in that he was eager to help people fix things or do projects.
“He’s always been a lot like that,” Rick said.
Bill, who had Hodgkin’s disease, died in 1986, the same year Kenny finished at Vashon High School. Kenny had been close to his adoptive father.
“When our dad passed away, it was pretty hard on him,” Rick recalled.
After high school, Kenny lived off-island for some time, working for a company called Evergreen Refrigeration. He married Ginger Straight, and though the two eventually separated, they had two children, Haylee and Zack.
Kenny and his family moved back to Vashon about 15 years ago. Described by others as a jack of all trades, he did odd jobs, worked at Giuseppe’s — a restaurant owned by his family — and helped with his brother Doug Sudduth’s construction business. About a decade ago, he helped Doug build Parks and her husband Michael a new home.
However, it was also around a decade ago, Parks said, that Kenny began to struggle greatly. Those who knew him said he turned to drugs, and indeed, a 2008 article in The Beachcomber noted that his criminal history included several misdemeanor charges and a 2003 felony charge for methamphetamine possession.
A turning point, however, came in 2008, when Kenny was involved in a high-profile accident on the north-end ferry dock. He was hauling a trailer loaded down with scrap metal to the ferry when the brakes on the truck he was driving overheated and he lost control of the vehicle. The truck slammed into a Dumpster and knocked a small tractor owned by the ferry system into the water. Kenny jumped off the dock and swam ashore, presumably to avoid arrest for a felony drug charge warrant, a police spokesman said at the time.
Kenny was incarcerated for several months, and after his release, friends and family say he turned a new page. He began working full time again, stayed clear of drugs and focused on his relationship with his children.
“He struggled with drugs, and he did turn his life around from that,” Rick said. “That is quite an accomplishment that not too many people do.”
In 2012, Kenny began working at Snapdragon Bakery and Cafe, which Adam Cone and Megan Hastings opened in the former Giuseppe’s space. He was the restaurant’s handyman at first, but when Cone needed help in the kitchen, Kenny stepped in and found he had a knack for baking. He began working more than full time as a baker there.
“His hands could move. He had those kind of baker hands,” Cone said.
It was also at Snapdragon that Kenny and Cone formed a close friendship, though perhaps an unlikely one. It was Cone’s truck that Kenny wrecked at the ferry dock after borrowing it in 2008.
“We didn’t have a lot in common on the surface, but we enjoyed the quality of each other’s time so much,” Cone said. “He had that effect on a lot of people.”
Cone and others at Snapdragon say that what Kenny lacked in size — he was a little over 5 feet tall — he made up for in spirit.
“In the morning I’d come in really tired, and he would be so happy and lively and bounce around the kitchen and give us all hugs,” said Michelle Brown, a former coworker.
Emily Hyde, another friend from Snapdragon, told of Kenny’s quirky sense of humor and his ability to lighten the mood at the restaurant. One day when everything seemed to be going wrong, Hyde said, he gathered the staff in the kitchen to show them how he could make a swirling rainbow in a bowl of water using soap and food coloring.
“He was able to take us away from our crazy minds with a weird comment. He yelled a lot in a positive way,” Hyde said. “He would shake us out, I guess. It’s just a Danish, it doesn’t matter that much.”
Cone, too, said he appreciated the simple way Kenny approached life, something that helped ground those around him. He loved being on the water, always had projects going and lately had begun growing plants and making a koi pond.
“I can get caught looking too far ahead, which is the nature of the business I’m involved with, and this is a person who was good at showing me the present. … Enjoying the moment was something he was all about, especially as his life had come to a better place.”
And as Kenny’s life was in a better place, he also became a support to others.
“It was his caring heart,” said Brown, who is 25 and described coming to Kenny with her problems. “He was a good listener, had great advice. He was willing to sit there and let me cry or make jokes, just a really good father figure.”
Kenny also became a father figure to his daughter’s and son’s friends, some of whom called him Dad. Parks noted that some of those young people had struggled with drugs themselves or had seen the deaths of friends on Vashon in recent years. It seemed Kenny could relate to them, she said.
“He lost somebody who he cared about very much years ago, and he knew how to handle that,” she said.
It happened to be the 30th anniversary of his father’s death when Kenny’s own life ended. While the details of the accident are not all clear, friends say Kenny left his home on the evening of Thursday, May 28, perhaps to go for a drive. At around 11 p.m., he was driving west on SW 204th Street, did not make the sharp turn onto 111th Avenue SW and drove off the road and into two trees. He died at the scene.
The King County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the accident. Though a sheriff’s office spokesman said speed was likely a factor in the crash, he couldn’t say whether alcohol or other substances were involved, as the investigation is still active. An official report won’t be released for several months.
Kenny is survived by his mother Rebecca Parks and stepfather Michael Parks, his biological father Norm Fowler, and children Haylee and Zack Sudduth. He is also survived by his brothers Rick Sudduth, Doug Sudduth, Tim Sudduth and John Fowler, and his sisters Tatum Hartness and Meridith Mas, his former wife Ginger Straight, many extended family members and his girlfriend, Jennifer Jones.
A memorial gathering was held on Saturday and attended by around 200 people, many of whom shared stories about Kenny’s life.
“I’m really glad he was around for everyone who needed him,” said Hyde, from Snapdragon. “It seemed like we all did in some way.”