‘The epitome of Tahoe’ — family, friends to remember man killed in vehicle-vs-bicycle crash
Arthur Joseph Heether, in more ways than one, embodied Lake Tahoe — the place that had been his home at heart since the 1970s.
He was an easy-going, kind person who was very approachable. He would engage you in conversation, yet he did not seek attention. Despite his seemingly one-dimensional mellowness that would put people at ease, Heether, or Rocky as most people called him, was an individual with tightly held beliefs and many passions, including advocating for social justice.
“I don’t think anyone has anything bad to say about him … he was just so loving and supportive and kind and generous. He was one of a kind — just so smart,” said Cynthia Jane Kendall, Rocky’s soulmate and girlfriend of 25 years.
Rocky died Saturday, May 13, after a collision with a vehicle while he was riding his bike just out front of the Safeway in South Lake Tahoe. He was 64.
Family and friends plan to gather Friday, May 19, at 6 p.m. at Lakeview Commons — a familiar venue for Rocky. From the beginning of the Live at Lakeview Summer Concert Series, Rocky was there to help out, said Rob Giustina, who along with his wife CarolAnne owns On Course Events, a production company responsible for Live at Lakeview and other events.
Giustina recalls seeing Rocky around the neighborhood prior to being approached by him about six years ago. The Giustinas were setting up for Live at Lakeview and Rocky stopped by to ask what they were doing.
According to Giustina, Rocky was sold instantly and said he wanted to help out.
“He helped us and our company in all aspects … ” Giustina said. “He was just a solid member of our community, solid member of the On Course team, I consider him a brother and he’ll be missed.”
For those reasons friends and family expect a good size crowd to come out to the remembrance gathering.
“Tahoe was where he felt at home,” said Tamara Lee Warren, Rocky’s daughter.
Man of many sides
Rocky, as Warren recalls, moved to Lake Tahoe in the ‘70s to follow her mother, who Rocky would eventually marry.
She remembers going on long walks with her father, who loved to hike and ski.
“He really appreciated the beauty that surrounds us,” she said.
In March of 1992 Rocky met Kendall on just her second day in town. It was snowing and he provided directions to the lost and confused newcomer. Within weeks of that first encounter the two crossed paths a second time at RoJo’s and, as Kendall said, they remained together ever since that moment. They both ended up studying at San Francisco State, then at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
“We just had these parallel lives … we did everything together,” Kendall said.
Rocky had many interests, including sociology. The son of a union boss, Rocky took a deep interest in workers’ rights, a fact both his girlfriend and daughter noted. He worked for a stretch as a union organizer in Reno and loved every second of it.
“He always thought of himself as a laborer,” Kendall said before mentioning that many people they encountered on their travels thought he was a professor.
“[There were] so many different sides to him and I saw all of them … and it’s just hard to think about my life without him,” Kendall said.
Less was more
Police have not publicly shared the circumstances that led to Rocky’s death.
And as of Wednesday the incident was still under investigation. Neither alcohol nor other drugs are believed to be a factor, according to the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.
While many details remain unknown, it is known that Rocky was not wearing a helmet. The night before the crash he and Kendall saw something on TV and she remembers Rocky saying it might be time to start wearing a helmet. He never did and Kendall said it’s unclear if it would have saved his life.
The two lived a minimalist life, going the past five years without owning a car. Biking was the primary mode of transportation and it became an identifying detail in his life for some people in South Lake Tahoe.
“He kept it simple, less was more for him,” Giustina remarked. “As long as his bike didn’t have a flat tire he was good.”
The Giustinas are in the process of planning the ideal way to pay proper tribute to their friend while also raising awareness about the importance of bicycle safety. They plan on naming the Live at Lakeview bicycle valet, which Rocky would set up before each show, after their friend. They’re also exploring using the valet to distribute safety information as well as personal lights to help make cyclists visible at night.
The details are still uncertain, but the Giustinas agree they will do something to honor the man who, as one On Course staff member said at a barbecue earlier this week, epitomized Tahoe.
“For me, he was the epitome of Tahoe. He was a mellow guy. Rocky knew everybody. He was friendly. He rode his bike everywhere,” the staff member said, according to CarolAnne Giustina. “He was a good dude with a lot of years left.”