Rhonda Comeau of Salmo is recovering at home after heart attacks that followed her confrontation with a customer at Empire Coffee in Nelson on Nov. 20. Photo: Submitted

Rhonda Comeau of Salmo is recovering at home after heart attacks that followed her confrontation with a customer at Empire Coffee in Nelson on Nov. 20. Photo: Submitted

Nelson hotel mask confrontation: perpetrator arrested, victim recovering

Jeremy Undershute is expected to be charged with assault

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.

Related: Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

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 on 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.’”



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
MP Morrison calls Keystone XL permit cancellation ‘devastating news’

Kootenay-Columbia MP reacts to the Conservative Party’s removal of a controversial Ontario MP

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

The Greater Vernon Ringette Association is one of six Vernon sports groups benefitting from B.C.’s Local Sport Relief Fund. (Morning Star file photo)
Relief funds keep Okanagan in the game

Clubs at risk of closure due to inability to offer programs and fundraise

Golden Rotary Club president Isabelle Simard presents a check in Invermere to the winner of Golden’s bingo. (Michele LaPointe photo)
Golden Bingo continues to grow; expands to other BC communities

The money is going back into the community through various Rotary projects

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Kevin Lee Barrett is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. (Facebook)
Court hears of victim’s injuries in West Kelowna attempted murder trial

Two-week-long trial continues for Kevin Barrett, accused of trying to kill mother in West Kelowna

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A mother hold hands with her daughter while sharing about her struggles with addiction during Overdose Awareness Day. (Jesse Major/Black Press file)
Overdose and suicide support group starts in Penticton

Penticton was one of the province’s communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis in 2020

Jan. 21 marks the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century, according to some. (Black Press Media file photo)
The 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century is upon us

Milestone won’t be back for another 100 years

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Most Read