THE BUZZ: Mourning Arndt

By on July 5, 2017

Community grapples with loss as a trial moves forward to prosecute the drunk driver who allegedly killed Bob Arndt.

Bob Arndt

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The investigation into the collision that killed Robert (Bob) Sumner Arndt is ongoing, but many are already feeling his absence.

“He had so much promise, so much left to give. It feels like such a loss to our community,” said friend Andy Heffron, a local farmer.

Arndt was involved in a head-on collision while driving east on Highway 22 Friday night. His Porsche was hit by the driver of a pickup headed west reportedly driving in the wrong lane without headlights.

Wyoming Highway Patrol identified Rudy Isla-Mejico, of Driggs, Idaho, as the driver of the pickup. He is being held in Teton County jail under two felony charges, aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated assault and battery, and four misdemeanors including open container, driving without headlights and driving in the wrong lane. A vehicular homicide charge, state trooper Justin Gardner explained, determines that the drivers’ actions “caused the death of another person.”

“Him being drunk, driving down the road with his headlights off, had he not done that the other person would probably be alive today,” Gardner said.

The aggravated assault and battery charge is determined by actions perceived as “reckless and under extreme indifference” to public safety causing “serious bodily injury to another person,” explained circuit court judge James Radda at Isla-Mejico’s first hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Arndt’s wife Melanie Harrice was in the car, and is being treated for injuries in the intensive care unit but is stable.

A third car was also involved, but the driver was unharmed. A motorist driving in a white Suburban driving behind Arndt swerved to miss the accident, but ended up colliding with the pickup and pushing it off the road.

Teton County Sheriff’s office is assisting WHP with the DUI investigation, but Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen told PJH results from the blood sample could take weeks. Gardner predicts the results of the blood test will reveal Isla-Mejico was “even more intoxicated than what the portable breath test indicated.”

A preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon was continued to Thursday, July 6 to give Isla-Mejico time to seek an attorney. If it is determined he cannot afford one, he will apply for a public defender. Isla-Mejico is being held at Teton County jail with a $500,000 bond.

In light of previous DUI convictions and one pending DUI charge, Radda and prosecuting attorney Steve Weichman determined that such a bond was high enough to communicate the consequences of violating conditions should Isla-Mejico post bail. “[Isla-Mejico] is the most perfect manifestation of a public threat I can recall in my career,” Weichman said at the hearing.

Gardner said the accident is a sobering reminder of the consequences of drinking and driving. “When people make the decision to drink and drive, they’re putting a lot more than their own lives in danger,” he said.

“He was a doer and a thinker”

Friends remember Arndt as selfless and ambitious. He was a food lover and an entrepreneur, and saw many dreams brought to life in his 53 years on earth.

“He was the kind of guy who always had ideas and would actually make them happen,” friend Roger Hayden said.

Many knew Arndt for his organic bakery and café Harvest, which he owned with Harrice. He combined Harvest and Choice Meats into Food Town, and renamed it Jackson Whole Grocer at the location where Lucky’s now lives. When the store grew big enough, he sold it to Jeff Rice, who moved it to its current location on Highway 89.

His most recent endeavor was a business called Mountain Roots, which sourced products from local farms and ranches and distributed them to local grocers. He was one of the most loyal clients at Heffron’s Alta farm, Purely by Chance.

“He was a business man at heart,” said Annie Fenn, Arndt’s friend of 15 years. “He had his hands in lots of things all of the time.”

Fenn said Arndt was the person she turned to for business advice and life advice. “He was a really good touchstone for me,” she said. “I always valued his input and opinion.”

Heffron echoed that some of his best ideas happened over coffee with Arndt. “The conversation was about ideas,” Heffron said. “He was a doer, but he was a thinker, too. It was fun to be around him and bounce ideas off of him.”

And whenever a friend had a business idea, or wanted to do something innovative in the food space, Fenn directed them to Arndt. “He was always behind the scenes making things happen,” she said.

Through all Arndt’s hard work and leadership, Hayden says he never saw Arndt lose his temper. “In the world he was in, there were plenty of opportunities for that,” Hayden said. “He was perpetually positive from what I could see.”

And Arndt also knew how to have fun. Fenn says it was her favorite thing about him. She recalled that Arndt wasn’t much of a skier, but would hike into high-country lakes with his ice skates. He was a gifted sailor from his Connecticut upbringing, and a talented horseback rider from the roots he planted here. Heffrom had just discussed plans for their next horseback ride up the Sleeping Indian.

He was quick to share a joke, and didn’t mind being the butt of one—like when he tried to help Hayden on a carpentry project, but “he didn’t have those kind of skills,” Hayden said. “I kept teasing him, ‘Don’t hold [the drill] that way, hold it like this.’” Carpentry was perhaps his biggest weakness, but he didn’t shy away from it, nor did he shy away from jokes made at his expense.

He also “totally adored his wife,” Fenn said. “That was obvious every time I saw them.”

Heffron and Fenn both saw Arndt the day of the accident, and their interactions with him paint a clear picture of the person he was. Heffron sat on the deck of Arndt’s Kelly home, and they “tried to solve the world’s problems.” The solutions were “awesome.”

Fenn ran into him at Albertsons that day. She was looking for a rack of lamb, but couldn’t find one she liked. “[Bob] said I could have one from his freezer,” she said. “He was willing to run up to Kelly and get it for me.”

“He was just a really sweet, really genuinely extraordinary person,” Fenn continued.

Heffron says he and the community at large are still processing such a sudden loss. “People are just beside themselves, me included. I’m working through the grief part of it, trying to make sense of it. It’s dang near impossible in this situation.”

Still, Heffron says Arndt’s legacy will live in the way he treated his countless friends. Everyone that met him felt like his best friend, Heffron said. “He will always be known as someone who is generous to a fault. Just a tremendous guy to be around.” PJH

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