The afternoon calm on the main floor of Sarnia Library was interrupted when a patron jumped from his seat and ran past the reference desk.
“Call 9-1-1,” he told staff as he bolted to the door.
Librarian Jeff Beeler stood at his desk and looked out the window onto Christina Street.
“There was a body lying just outside, in the middle of the road,” he said. “We all ran right out to him.”
Beeler was horrified when he recognized Arthur Clarke, 28, a library regular he’d known at least a decade. They spoke often about Clarke’s love of music, his favourite band Rush, and his desire to start a library music program for children.
Clarke was well known around the library — a friendly, talkative guy who carried a backpack and guitar. Now he lay motionless on the road.
The cube truck he’d collided with was pulled over to the curb.
“I talked to Arthur. I don’t know what I said,” Beeler recalled. “He didn’t respond and I couldn’t tell if he was breathing. He went down pretty fast.”
As police and paramedics arrived a small crowd gathered. Many recognized Clarke as the guy they’d see walking or riding a bike around town, waving, smiling, trying to organize a jam session.
“I stayed with Arthur until a police officer started CPR,” said Beeler. “Then we were all told to get back.
“It was a very sad day. The last time I talked to him, Arthur told me he was homeless and he was frustrated about it.
“I felt badly for him because he seemed like a good guy, always wanting to help other people.”
Heidi Prince was walking downtown when she saw emergency vehicles at the library.
“I saw a body covered and I started bawling. All I could do was worry for this person and his family,” she said.
Later, after learning who had died, she was stunned.
“I met Arthur about a year ago and we sang together after church,” Prince said. “We talked a lot about not giving up.
“I know Arthur struggled with drug use. He got on methadone at one point but I know that recently he wasn’t taking it.”
A good friend, Jennifer Brace, said a combination of drug use and mental illness haunted Clarke through his adult life. He had trouble keeping a job, slept at shelters and was increasingly unhappy. He associated rarely with family and his father had moved out of town.
“People like Arthur don’t have a lot of support. We all loved him and we’re heartbroken,” Brace said.
“The world isn’t black and white. That was the problem. People like Arthur are judged and all he was trying to do was cope.”
Sarnia Police say no charges were laid against the driver of the cube truck. A police investigation is determining if the vehicle was mechanically sound and whether Clarke had drugs in his system.
“No foul play,” police often say in such cases. With no evidence yet to the contrary it would appear Clarke, who was remembered in his obituary for his kindness and gentle soul, ran into the truck’s path.
“It’s difficult to say why because we don’t know what was going on in his head,” said Sarnia Police Const. John Sottosanti.
“It’s probable we’ll never know.”
Musician and business owner Marty Oblak had known Clarke since high school. They weren’t close but Clarke would sometimes contact Oblak to help with music writing or to get together for a jam.
Oblak heard the sirens that day and ran to see what happened. He can’t recall Clarke showing signs of mental illness or serious drug abuse in high school but had witnessed his downward spiral in recent years.
“There are too many people in Sarnia like Arthur with mental health problems who can’t see moving forward. “I just wish I could have done more,” Oblak said.
“Music helped Arthur when he was low,” Prince added. “But a week before he died I heard someone stole his guitar. I wish I knew. I would have given him one of mine.”
Two memorial services were held this past weekend. One was at River City Vineyard, the church Clarke sometimes attended; the other at The Trinity Lounge, where he went sometimes to see bands play.