Community Mourns a Man of the Mesa

Stabbing Suspect Arrested; Incident Details Remain Sketchy

As more information begins to emerge about the alleged killer of Robert Simpson—who died on Thursday, April 15 near Hendry’s Beach—what actually prompted the brutal stabbing as well as details about the altercation leading up to it are still unclear.

Rudy Gallegos, 21, was arrested for the homicide Sunday afternoon at a residence on San Pascual Street. The day before, a 17-year-old female had been arrested for accessory to murder, and the day prior to that, Brittany Weiler—who had a misdemeanor charge filed against her on April 13 for bringing a cell phone into the County Jail visitation area and on April 14 celebrated her 19th birthday—was also arrested for accessory to murder.

Gallegos has two prior criminal cases on his record since becoming an adult in February 2007. The first was filed in July 2008 for misdemeanor fighting in public. He pleaded guilty at arraignment. In April 2009, Gallegos was charged with one count of vandalism causing less than $400 in damage, with a gang enhancement. The case was resolved, though it isn’t clear what happened.

But Lupe Gallegos, Rudy’s mother, said her son was a very happy, kind-hearted person who loved his family and had in the last year turned his life around. He had begun going to church and attending Bible studies weekly. His financial aid to attend Santa Barbara City College had gone through, and had been looking into getting his tattoos removed. “He’s not the horrible person the news has made him out to be,” she said. He was tired of the streets, she said, and saw the joy of people in church after being pushed and encouraged by a friend to attend. “It started clicking in his head,” Lupe Gallegos said, adding that Rudy has had a positive impact on his younger brothers as well.

She also said she knows in her heart her son didn’t kill Simpson, and that her son has been at peace. “I have faith my son is going to come home,” she said.

Authorities haven’t given much detail about what they believe might’ve occurred that night on the grassy patch to the rear of the Boathouse restaurant. Drew Sugars, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, said detectives have come across a lot of varying accounts from dozens of witnesses, and are trying to determine what exactly took place in the altercation, and what Simpson’s involvement, if any, might’ve been.

One witness told The Independent she saw some sort of verbal altercation taking place, and that it was obvious some members in the involved group had been drinking. The victim, this witness said, was yelling as a friend pushed him away. (Other witnesses said Simpson was attempting to diffuse a fight that had broken out.) But not long after, she saw someone approach the victim from the front and, “sort of swinging,” appear to punch him in the neck. After he pulled back, she realized he had been stabbed as blood began pouring from his neck.

The scene became chaotic, as some people ran to the restaurant to get towels to stop the bleeding, while others gathered around Simpson, trying save him. An ambulance arrived to transport Simpson to Cottage Hospital, but he was pronounced dead not long after.

Simpson, a life-long resident of Santa Barbara, was well-known—and well regarded—in the community. He grew up on East Valley Road in Montecito and attended Santa Barbara High, where he played water polo and graduated in 1984. He spent some time in the Marine Reserves, and in 1994 graduated from UCSB where he took photos for the Daily Nexus and hosted a reggae radio program.

He was a man of the Mesa. He could be seen at the Mesa Café on a regular occasion, and had long ago made Hendry’s Beach his place to surf and hang out. He was a gentle soul with a gentle spirit, said his significant other, and was good with children and respectful of his mother.

Simpson wasn’t the type of guy to hold a 9-to-5-type job or worry about being secure with a house and a 401(k). “He did things his own way, like no one you’d ever meet,” his longtime friend Steve Risser said. Still, he had stints at several different jobs, including time as a licensed urchin diver, and time working for construction and tile companies. He was considered very talented at both crafts.

Friends described Simpson as a mellow, peaceful guy, “not the bar brawler type,” said friend Damian Clarke. “It’s not his style to engage someone.” Still, others said Simpson could get hot under the collar at times. He did have a criminal history, including in 1997 when he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor fighting charge for an incident in the parking lot behind the Cliff Room. He also had two other minor incidents in 2004 and 2005, one of which was later dismissed.

Friends defended Simpson, saying he would probably only get into an altercation to stick up for someone else. “He just didn’t like things that weren’t right,” Risser said. “And if they weren’t right, he’d do something about it.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, charges hadn’t been filed against Gallegos, as the community waits to hear more information about what exactly happened, and why. What appears to be another shocking murder in a very public place has clearly shaken the town as a whole, and deeply impacted the friends of Robert Simpson, some who called him Rob, others who called him Bobby I, but all of whom had been touched by the man. As one friend said, “Rob was an exceptional individual.”

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