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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 9:19 am | Fair 50º


Family, Friends of ‘Bobby I’ Celebrate Life of Slaying Victim

Plaque dedicated in Rob Simpson's honor at Arroyo Burro Beach

Peaceful Arroyo Burro Beach, where locals bring their dogs to run off-leash in the waves and families lounge in the sun, is deceptive. The usually untroubled setting is where dozens of witnesses watched as 44-year-old Mesa resident Robert Simpson bled to death in April after his neck was slashed.

Now, under a gently swaying palm tree just a few yards from where Simpson drew his last breath, his friends and family have placed a permanent memorial. Those who knew him are hopeful it will serve as a reminder of Simpson’s death, and of the justice they hope will come quickly for his killer.

Friends and family gathered Sunday to celebrate Simpson’s life by dedicating the plaque and enjoying a cookout together. Pictures of Simpson throughout his life were on display, including as a smiling Cub Scout and as a somber Marine years later. Other photos showed Simpson catching big waves in places like Mexico and Bali, giving depth to the widely circulated profile picture of Simpson in sunglasses that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued in the days after his death.

Simpson’s brother, Mike, was among those at the memorial and said that news of his death reached all the way to surfing friends in New Zealand. “There are so many more who aren’t here,” he said.

Of the memorial, “I love it,” he said.

The tight-knit group of surfers and friends of “Bobby I,” many part of the “Pit Crew,” the band of surfers that frequent the beach, were present. They cheered out Simpson’s nickname as they posed for a group photo together. Robert Hembree, a friend of Simpson’s and organizer of the memorial, said the Pit Crew was only partially represented by the attendees at Sunday’s potluck. Multiple generations of surfers make up the extended family that Simpson was a part of, he said.

Hembree said he was at the beach on April 15, the day Simpson was killed, and although he didn’t witness the stabbing, he did see the aftermath.

“I ran up and saw a trail of blood,” he said.

Hembree said he grabbed Simpson’s dog and went to the hospital after an ambulance rushed his friend from the scene. “It was a very bad day,” he said.

Hembree said he’s been to every court appearance that murder suspect Adrian Robles has had so far, including an appearance Friday at which a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 19.

“It’s not over,” he said.

Hembree said he hopes the plaque will keep what happened on people’s minds. That way, “the tragedy doesn’t go unnoticed,” his wife, Cindy, said. Money was collected for the plaque, and the Santa Barbara County Parks Department waived the fees, she said.

Erik Laurabee, a longtime friend and Mesa resident, agreed that the plaque would bring awareness of what happened that day. “It’s a crude reminder that we’re all vulnerable,” he said.

Laurabee and Simpson had surfed together often the past winter, and enjoyed some good waves together. “It’s going to be different this year,” he said. “I’ll miss him this winter.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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