British Columbia

B.C. hotel employee still recovering after disturbing incident with anti-mask customer

Rhonda Comeau was allegedly spat on by an angry customer at a coffee shop in November and had to be rushed to hospital with heart problems afterwards. She asks people to follow COVID-19 regulations and be kind to each other.

'If you don't want to wear a mask, don't leave your house,' says Rhonda Comeau of Nelson's Adventure Hotel

Rhonda Comeau, accountant for Adventure Hotel in Nelson, B.C., stands at the hotel's Empire Coffee shop where she was allegedly spat on by an anti-mask customer in November. (Bob Keating/CBC)

The accountant for a hotel in downtown Nelson, B.C., is asking people to calmly accept COVID-19 regulations, a month after she was allegedly spat upon by an anti-mask customer and later suffered a series of heart attacks. 

Rhonda Comeau, 54, entered the Empire Coffee shop in the Adventure Hotel on Nov. 20 to see what was happening after being alerted by the manager that there was a disturbance.

She says she saw a man who had a mask, but wasn't wearing it, yelling profanities at female staff inside the store in the West Kootenay community.

"He said that he was having a conversation with the girls. And I said,' No…You were being a bully,'" Comeau recalled telling him while standing at the shop entrance.

The man later put on a mask, but Comeau says he continued being aggressive.

"He pulled down his mask and told me I was ugly, and spat at me," she said. 

Comeau called the police, who followed the man to a nearby supermarket where he was arrested.

According to hotel manager Rob Little, Comeau came back to her office about an hour and a half after giving a statement to the police.

"I could feel the pain starting and it was like across the chest into my armpit, so I knew something was wrong," Comeau said. "I walked in and I said, 'Rob! 911! Heart attack!'" 

According to Comeau, the suspect had a mask but refused to wear it inside the Empire Coffee shop. He later put the mask on, she says, but pulled it down before spitting at her. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Comeau says she had four heart attacks that day before arriving at a hospital in Kelowna by ambulance, putting her in a dire medical situation.

Now back in Nelson, Comeau is recovering, a process that could take years. 

"I have to really concentrate when I walk," she said. "I don't even like taking a Tylenol for a headache, and now I've got a purse full of pills."

Comeau also says her doctor has recommended psychotherapy because she can't stop thinking about the ugly incident.

Comeau says she realizes people are getting frustrated with public health orders, but that's not an excuse for being rude, especially toward essential workers.

Rob Little, general manager of Adventure Hotel, called 911 for an ambulance last month after his colleague Rhonda Comeau felt the symptoms of a heart attack. (Bob Keating/CBC)

"A few months ago, you thought they [essential workers] were fantastic, and now you're treating them like dirt," she said. "That's not fair." 

"If you don't want to wear a mask, don't leave your house," Comeau said while wearing a mask in the Empire Coffee shop.

The Nelson Police Department says charges are pending against 40-year-old Jeremy Undershute arising from the incident. 

Undershute has also been charged following an Aug. 31 incident at Kootenay Bakery, which is a five-minute walk from the Empire Coffee shop. The charges include assaulting a peace officer, wilfully resisting or obstructing a peace officer and causing disturbance.

Tap the link below to listen to Rhonda Comeau on Daybreak South:

With files from Bob Keating