Business Leader Ouh Dies in Crash

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Korean businessman Brian B. Ouh, an importer credited with helping rejuvenate 4th Street as part of this city’s redevelopment, died Saturday in an auto collision. He was 52.

Ouh was killed when his vehicle struck the rear of a truck on the eastbound San Bernardino Freeway near West Covina, said Jose Romo, Ouh’s business associate. The California Highway Patrol said Ouh was traveling up Kellogg Hill about 2 a.m. when he collided with the slower-moving truck.

Ouh was the force behind the Korean emergence of merchants on Santa Ana’s 4th Street, a predominantly Latino area, said Florinda Mintz, a member of the Downtown Santa Ana Business Assn.


“We’re still shocked at the news,” said Mintz, who added that last month Ouh became the first Korean businessman selected as a board member of the downtown association.

The energetic entrepreneur owned 90% of the Fiesta Bargain Store, a 15,000-square-foot store in Santa Ana, and made a point while recruiting Asian vendors that they had to speak Spanish and cater to the growing Latino community.

Ouh was quoted in a Times article in January as saying that Koreans have to learn to respect the community where they do business because “I know the problems that Korean businessmen have had in Los Angeles.”

Ouh was a top government official in South Korea before President Park Chung Hee was assassinated in 1979. Fearing for his safety, Ouh emigrated with his family to the United States.

He arrived in Los Angeles and embarked on an immigrant’s odyssey; his first jobs were as a restaurant busboy and a dishwasher. He had some savings but didn’t know how to start a business. In time, he learned.

He later tapped into South Korea’s cheap labor market and began manufacturing cotton swabs there and importing them to the United States. His California company, Kortec Enterprise Inc., is now Southern California’s largest importer of cotton swabs.


On Friday, Romo said that he and Ouh spent the morning in Tijuana negotiating with Mexican officials there about establishing a cotton swab manufacturing plant south of the border.

“That night he had dinner with some Korean businessmen in Los Angeles and was driving home when the accident occurred,” Romo said.

Ouh also was developing department stores in Huntington Park and Colton.

Ouh is survived by his wife, Susan, and a daughter, Grace, 16, both of Rancho Cucamonga.

Funeral services will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Korean Funeral Home, 2045 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.

Burial will be in Rose Hills Memorial Park Cemetery in Whittier.