British Columbia

B.C. hotel employee spat on by customer refusing to wear mask has heart attack shortly after, manager says

An accountant for a Nelson, B.C., hotel had a heart attack and collapsed shortly after being spat on by an angry customer who refused to wear a mask, according to the hotel manager.

Manager says suspect was screaming profanities before spitting incident

The Empire Coffee shop in the Adventure Hotel in Nelson, B.C., was the scene of an encounter Friday between an angry customer refusing to wear a mask and an employee sent to investigate the disturbance, according to the hotel manager. (Bob Keating/CBC)

An accountant for a hotel in downtown Nelson, B.C., had a heart attack and collapsed shortly after being spat upon by an angry customer refusing to wear a mask, according to the hotel manager.

The Nelson Police Department confirms it is investigating last Friday's incident, in which the customer allegedly yelled at a barista who offered him a face covering at the Empire Coffee shop in the Adventure Hotel.

According to hotel manager Rob Little, the suspect "was screaming profanities at the top of their lungs to the point that they [the staff of Empire Coffee] had to say, 'Just get out!' "

Little said that after receiving a call from the coffee shop manager, his accountant — a woman in her 50s — went to see what was going on.

"It was at that point that the person was trying to enter again," Little said.

"And she said, 'Listen! You're not going to talk to our people this way, and this is the law.' And he proceeded to spit on her."

Rob Little, general manager of the Adventure Hotel, said his accountant had a heart attack and collapsed an hour and a half after the encounter with the customer, who allegedly spat on the woman. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Little says police arrived and removed the suspect and took a statement from the accountant. 

After arriving back at the office about an hour and a half later, Little said the accountant, who was distraught from the experience, reported feeling ill and fell to the ground. 

She was airlifted to a hospital in Kelowna where it was determined she'd had a heart attack.

"She's stable right now, but she's not out of the woods by any stretch," he said. 

Aggressive behaviour around mask mandate

At least one other business in the city of over 10,000 people said they've experienced an increase in aggressive behaviour targeting customer service representatives, after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced last Thursday that face coverings are now mandatory in all retail spaces.

This week, Kootenay Co-op — a grocery store near the hotel — hired a security guard for the first time in its 45 years to head off rude behaviour among some shoppers who are resisting the mask mandate.

The grocery store's manager said while most customers have followed the new regulations, about 10 to 20 per cent are refusing to wear a mask and become confrontational when asked to do so. 

"We all live here because of the quality of people that are here," Little said. "To see this kind of polarizing views on things and people going to such extremes is just disappointing."

Staff Sgt. Brian Weber says the Nelson Police Department is looking into the spitting incident. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Police investigating spitting incident

Staff Sgt. Brian Weber with the Nelson Police Department says police are looking at the relationship between the woman's heart attack and the spitting incident with the customer. 

"There have been … some investigations that have made those causal links in the past," he said.

"[But] it's far too early and I know far too little about the exact file to make that kind of jump right now."

The suspect is facing an assault charge.

Tap the link below to listen to Bob Keating's conversation with Rob Little and Staff Sgt. Brian Weber on Daybreak South:

With files from Bob Keating and Daybreak South