It was 10:46 p.m. when Souvanny Thongdy In got a call from the hospital that her father had been hit by a car hours earlier.
“How did you get this number?” she asked.
“Your dad gave it to us,” the person on the other line said, according to Souvanny.
On Feb. 19, her 75-year-old father, Sy Thongdy, was found lying in the roadway along Pacific Coast Highway and Pasadena Avenue in Central Long Beach.
At the time, Sy was alert and speaking with officers, who determined that he was the victim of a hit-and-run. He was then transported to a hospital with what were thought to be non-life-threatening injuries.
But by the time Souvanny arrived at the hospital that night, her father was in surgery due to a lack of circulation in his left leg.
From then on, Sy was never fully alert again, and his condition only worsened, his family said, until he died from his injuries on March 24.
“He was a loving grandfather,” Souvanny said. “He was the best for his family.”
Sy was born on December 17, 1947, in a small village in Cambodia, his family said.
There, he grew to be a farmer by trade and eventually met his wife, Somphong, with whom he’d later have five children.
But around the time 20-year-old Sy’s first child was born, a civil war was also brewing in Cambodia that would soon lead to the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power. The regime would later be responsible for a years-long, nationwide genocide.
It was during this time that Sy was placed in a concentration camp and made to work, according to his family.
Although the camp was liberated around 1979, Sy, along with millions of other people living in Cambodia, decided to escape the country and seek refuge elsewhere, his family said.
“There was no food there,” Sy’s son, Pat, recalls. “The whole country was in turmoil.”
It took two attempts before the family was able to escape to a refugee camp run in Thailand, and after an interview process, the Thongdys were able to seek safety in the United States.
During the interview process, the family chose Long Beach as their preferred destination, as an uncle and aunt had already settled here the year before.
Once they arrived in the United States, Sy, determined as ever, enrolled at Long Beach City College to get an automotive certification, his family said.
In just a few years, Sy was making a living working on cars while being an integral part of the Long Beach community, where he was also the bus driver for the New Life Church of Nazarene as it was just starting out, his family said.
“He wanted a better life for his kids,” his daughter Souvanny said. “He was a provider.”
If Sy’s children could have one more conversation with him, they’d tell him just how much they loved and cared for him.
“If it wasn’t for him, who knows where us as kids would have ended up,” Pat said.
While the Thongdy family’s new home in Long Beach was a respite from the turmoil in their home country, they arrived in 1980, a time of growing gang activity in the city. Before they knew it, the family was again surrounded by violence.
Pat said that during this time, the lessons and discipline his father instilled in them kept them away from a life of gangs and hardship.
He was a supportive parent who was always there for his children, another one of his three sons, Donnty, said, recalling all the times his father would take him to his Boy Scout meetings and track meets.
“He was someone who showed a lot of tough love and discipline,” Donnty said. “But that’s because he wanted to raise us to work hard so we didn’t have to go through what he did.”
One of Sy’s two daughters, Souvanny, recalled Saturday mornings when her father would wake for their driving lessons.
He’d take her to a parking lot at Cal State Long Beach, where he’d let her take the steering wheel while he coached her from outside.
“He was a good teacher,” she said. “He taught all his kids to drive.”
But most importantly, he taught his children to have fun and enjoy life, they said.
As a young man, Sy was considered the life of the party, his children said.
“He was always a fun guy to be around,” according to Pat, who said his father’s true passion was dancing and singing. “His smile was very infectious.”
When Pat first got the call about his father getting hit by a car, he was in disbelief.
“My initial reaction was that it wasn’t good,” he said. “I work in the car repair business, and I see the impact from a vehicle to another—metal to metal. Now imagine a body being hit by a moving metal.”
The crash left Sy with broken ribs, a fractured neck bone, no circulation in his legs and lacerations to the forehead, Pat said.
Although CT scans show Sy’s brain was functioning well, the rest of his body was compromised, Pat said.
“If your brain tells you to raise your hand, but your hand can’t be raised, then there’s only so much you can do,” he said.
When Sy died last week, surrounded by his children, Pat called it the worst feeling of his life.
“We came from a war-torn country where life was very difficult, and we made it here. … We owe a lot of that to him,” Pat said. “I just wanted another few years of his life with him.”
Although Sy was showing signs of slowing down due to his age, he still followed the same routine each day, his children said.
He’d wake up each morning, go to a nearby coffee shop where he’d talk with his friends, and then head back home. On the weekends, he’d spend time creating memories with his grandkids.
This summer, his family said, Sy was looking forward to traveling back to Cambodia to visit family and friends.
But rather than preparing to go on a trip back to “the motherland,” Sy’s family is now left planning another funeral.
On the day of the crash, Sy was on his way home from a funeral service for a relative, his family said.
He was crossing Pacific Coast Highway at Pasadena Avenue, according to the Long Beach Police Department, when the driver of a dark-colored sedan struck him and then fled the scene.
Police have yet to locate the driver.
“I want to find justice for my dad, I really do,” Pat said. “His life was cut too short.”
Sy leaves behind his wife Somphong, five children (Kuntier, Souvanny, Pat, Koumaly, and Donnty), his niece Nakry Dee, who is considered a sibling by Sy’s children, and 12 grandchildren.
A GoFundMe to support Sy’s family can be found here.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Sy Thongdy’s age.
With pandemic tenant protections going away, will Long Beach see a surge of evictions?