Five days after a brutal stabbing at one of Santa Barbara’s most popular beaches, a clearer picture of the brazen murder is emerging.
Thursday’s melee left 44-year-old Mesa resident Robert Burke Simpson with his neck slashed and bleeding to death at Arroyo Burro Beach, 2981 Cliff Drive. The incident occurred around 6:30 p.m., while the Santa Barbara County park was packed with locals enjoying the late-afternoon sunshine, walking dogs on the beach and dining at the Boathouse Restaurant. Adding to the crowd was a well-attended nearby event hosted by Surfrider Foundation’s Santa Barbara chapter.
In all, authorities estimate several hundred people were in the vicinity of the confrontation.
Although two suspects — Brittany Danielle Weiler, 19, of Santa Barbara, and a 17-year-old girl — are in custody as alleged accessories to murder, authorities have remained quiet about the suspect responsible for Simpson’s death. Late Monday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Department announced that a third suspect has been arrested in the case: Rudy Gallegos, 20, of Santa Barbara.
Last week, first responders to the beach encountered a grisly scene. A Santa Barbara Fire Department crew, as well as a county fire engine and paramedic personnel, were dispatched after the 9-1-1 call.
City Fire Battalion Chief Pat McElroy’s team was the first to arrive, and was sent back the next day to clean up the scene before the parking lot and beach could be reopened to the public.
“We’re used to going to some pretty graphic things, but I think this was particularly bad,” he told Noozhawk.
The popularity of the beach and the time of day the crime occurred make it especially chilling.
“It’s a place we all go to,” McElroy said.
That so many people were around and suspects could feel like they could just walk away from the scene is “particularly shocking,” McElroy said.
“You think you get hardened to this stuff, and then this happens,” he said.
Staff from the Boathouse aren’t speaking about what happened Thursday.
“We’re leaving the restaurant out of all this,” a manager at the eatery said Monday morning.
Just outside the restaurant, a small memorial had been set up on the sidewalk where Simpson had been moments before he died.
Pictures of “Bobby I” skateboarding, personal notes, flowers and skateboarding wheels were all placed on the sidewalk. Even a pair of Simpson’s black tennis shoes was placed among the items.
Two men were at the makeshift memorial, one kneeling and in tears. Both said they were members of the surfing group known as the “Pit Crew” that frequents the beach, but they only identified themselves as friends of Simpson’s.
One of the men said he hadn’t seen the actual stabbing, but described the scene afterward as “chaotic.” He said he saw Simpson bleeding to death in the parking lot.
“I watched him take his last breaths,” he said.
The other man said Simpson was a “stand-up guy.”
“He never hurt anybody,” he said. “He was just a surfer.”
Both men expressed confidence that the investigation would bring those responsible to justice.
“It will all come out eventually,” one said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at email@example.com.