Rhonda Comeau says she was trying to protect the servers at Empire Coffee in Nelson’s Adventure Hotel when she confronted a man shouting about mask-wearing on Nov. 20.
She said the man, since identified by police as Jeremy Undershute, was wearing a mask but loudly and profanely yelling about the requirement to wear one, calling the servers and customers “sheep.”
“These girls are young,” Comeau said. “They have never been put in a situation like this before. They were scared. And he thought that was OK. And when he tried it with me, it was like, yeah, you’re not dealing with a 16 year old now.”
Comeau, who is the financial controller for the hotel, told him they wouldn’t serve him because he was bullying the staff. She told Undershute to leave and he refused.
“I said, ‘Well, you’re either leaving on your own, or you’re leaving by police escort, I really don’t care which.’”
Undershute then allegedly spat on her before leaving. Comeau followed him until the police apprehended him two blocks away.
Staff Sgt. Brian Weber of the Nelson City Police says the police have asked the Crown for an assault charge as well as a charge of abusive and belligerent behaviour under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act, but the Crown has not yet approved these charges.
Undershute is already scheduled for a Jan. 19 court appearance for charges of assault, resisting arrest, and causing a disturbance following a similar incident in a different location in downtown Nelson in August.
After the incident at Empire Coffee, Comeau’s first concern was to clean herself up.
“When I got into the bathroom, that’s when it kind of hit me what happened,” she said. “And that’s when I started getting really ticked off. I was looking forward to see my grandkids, and this guy just spit on me. I didn’t know if he’s got something. This could ruin Christmas.”
Then she walked two blocks on an errand and on her way back had to stop and rest because of chest pain and shortness of breath.
“I slowly made my way back to the hotel. I got to the back parking lot and the pain started getting worse. I sat down on the bench. And I thought, you know, this isn’t a good place to be outside by myself. Something’s wrong. I walked into [hotel manager Rob Little’s] office and he was on his phone. And I just said, ‘Rob, call 911.’ I knew I was having a heart attack.”
She remembers having a heart attack at the hotel — “That’s a pain you never forget” — but after entering the ambulance her memory is spotty. She remembers little about the trip to Kelowna, then nothing until four days later when she was taken out of an induced coma. She came home to Salmo four days after that, on Nov. 28.
Piecing the day’s events together later, Comeau says after the initial heart attack she had three cardiac arrests the same day.
It has not been proven in court that the incident directly caused Comeau’s heart attacks.
But she said several of her doctors told her they thought it did, and she said one of them wrote a letter to the police stating this opinion.
Independently of the medical opinion, Comeau is convinced the two are connected.
“I know my temperament,” she said.
She put on a calm demeanor in the midst of the incident because she didn’t want to panic in front of the servers, and she resisted telling Undershute what she thought of him.
“I’m a professional. I’m a manager. But inside, I wasn’t calm. I was raging. I could feel all of that raging inside of me when I was talking to him, I had it raging inside me when I had to go into my office with his spit all over me and watch the surveillance footage.”
Since arriving home she’s been dealing with confusion, limited mobility and pain, and she was taken to Kootenay Boundary Hospital again on Dec. 10 and Dec. 23 with complications. Her husband has had to stay home and look after her. As of Dec. 28, Comeau said she felt about 60-to-70 per cent recovered.
She has worked for the Adventure Hotel for 12 years, working her way up through various jobs, and she calls the hotel staff her work family. She’s grateful for the company’s response to her situation.
“Rob told me, ‘I don’t care what you need. You phone me, you text me. I don’t care what it is, you’re going to have it.’”