Boulder Creek house storm
Roy Windom IV and Xenia Jones stand in the rubble of their Boulder Creek house that they shared with roommate Robert Brainard III, who died Feb. 4 after a tree fell on his bedroom. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

In the months Roy Windom IV spent living in the same Boulder Creek house as Robert Brainard III, the man who was killed when a tree fell on his bedroom Feb. 4, they never really made a big deal about their names including Roman numerals.

For one, they focused more on a shared Italian heritage; plus, everyone just called him “Bobby.”

“He cooked his ‘Bobby pasta,’” said Windom’s fiancée Xenia Jones, looking back fondly on the exploits of their quiet but generous roommate, including how he’d return from work with tasty treats. “He brought us cannolis back almost every week.”

In the days after the storm with swirling, high-octane winds, the couple’s been picking up the pieces—literally—clearing oak trunk segments, sifting through the rubble for keepsakes to pass on to next-of-kin, and remembering a man who became like family in less than 12 months.

In the wake of torrential downpours, early last year, that flooded the home and damaged its roof, the couple decided to put an ad out for someone to live with who could help pay the bills.

“I was looking for somebody that would be more like family,” Jones said of how they went through other candidates before deciding on Brainard. “I really clicked with Bobby.”

Brainard loved to play guitar—and was quite good at it—and loved to talk cars and music.

“He really did become like family in the end,” she said, noting Brainard would even tell people that Jones had become like a sister to him. “He was a simple guy—but in a good way.”

The roommates describe Brainard as an unassuming guy who’d get up each day to head to the marijuana-testing lab, then return to spend time with his Mexican shorthair Xochitil. She was his world.

Boulder Creek house storm
Debris from fallen trees still cover the property following the Feb. 4 devastating storm. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

A mid-life rebirth

And yet, in the face of this routine, they got to witness the man undergo a powerful—and incredibly personal—transformation.

First of all, when he moved in, he wasn’t exactly proficient at building things.

“We do the DIY stuff around the house,” Windom explained.

“He was not handy with tools,” Jones said.

But like so many San Lorenzo Valley residents trying to clean up after the 2023 atmospheric rivers, there were plenty of chances to improve—and Brainard embraced the challenge with his characteristic self-deprecating sense of humor.

“By the end there, Roy had taught him how to use drill,” Jones said.

They can’t help but laugh about the time Brainard was helping Windom build a fence so their dogs could run around outdoors in a protected area.

“We were out there together,” said Windom. “He did most of it.”

And then, just as they reached the finish line—an unexpected turn.

“We’re standing there, and he finished it, and part of the gate falls down,” Windom recalled.

“Yeah,” was all Brainard said, walking away.

“It was really funny,” Windom said. “It was classic Bobby of—Hey, everything’s good. We’re together. We’re having fun. And—Yeah!”

It was a moment of levity following days that had gotten extremely dark for Brainard.

His dad, who’d just stayed in the guest room with his stepmom in August, died in November. Then, his biological mother passed away shortly thereafter.

Windom shared how they spoke about the series of losses on the way back from the San Jose airport after one of the funerals.

“We got to talk just a little bit,” he said, noting Brainard was pretty open with his thoughts. “But at the same time, just having that amount pile up on you, it’s hard to process. And he wanted—to be honest—to listen to some music, roll the windows down, and get back to the house and the dogs.”

And yet, the couple said, somehow Brainard seemed to have experienced a remarkable catharsis.

In the months leading up to the tragedies, Brainard had been moping about.

But as 2023 turned into 2024, it was like their roommate had become an entirely new person.

“He really did snap back and take the opportunity to celebrate the life of his mom and dad, and also, instead of looking back—to look forward,” Windom said, “—and to make sure that he was moving towards being the best him.”

While he finally bought himself a new car with some of the inheritance money, he had more selfless plans for the rest of it. He talked about how he was excited to pay people back, buy a new generator for the house and use the cash for other good deeds.

Brainard had become so positive, there were even moments when it could be a little irritating.

“It’s aggravating because sometimes I’m depressed,” Windom said with a laugh, reflecting on the era in their roommate relationship that was cut painfully short.

“He just lifts the mood, I would say,” Jones added.

Boulder Creek house storm
Xenia Jones and Roy Windom IV with Robert Brainard III (right). (Contributed)

And in a moment, it’s over

A few minutes before the tree came down from across the creek, Jones was up on the roof fixing a tarp. Windom was in San Jose.

The power had already been out for about an hour.

She heard a branch snap, and decided she better head inside.

“I had just finished blowing the leaves and stuff,” she said. “That was one of the last things I talked to Bobby about.”

Brainard told her he was going to take a nap.

“I heard and felt what I immediately knew was a tree branch,” she said. “It was like a bomb.”

In fact, multiple trees had violently toppled.

She called out for Brainard but didn’t get a response.

“I knew something was bad at that point,” she said. “I couldn’t get to him, so I ran out to my front porch.”

Her other tenant, who lives in an ADU on the property, handled the ensuing emergency response blur, as firefighters fought their way toward Brainard, then pronounced him dead.

“I was just in hysterics at that point,” she said, noting she remained in shock days later. “The guilt is big, I guess. I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do. I just miss him, man. It sucks.”

Even though Brainard’s room collapsed into the basement and the guest room has been obliterated, a contractor has deemed the structure solid enough to salvage.

Their animals all survived, and they were able to quickly rehome Xochitil.

Jones said she’s thankful that Brainard’s family has been as understanding as possible, and feels terrible his relatives have now suffered three major losses in the past few months.

But how do you come to terms with the fact that there’s no one to blame for this other than Mother Nature herself?

“I don’t think we’ve fully reconciled that,” Windom said. “It’s day by day, moment by moment.”

The couple has set up a shrine with some of Brainard’s favorite items—the New York Giants snowman, his “Call of Duty: WWII” PS4 game, the “Made in Italy” Monte Pollino roasted garlic sauce, the Yamaha acoustic guitar, and blue volume with “The Book of Bob” written on the spine.

And now begins the slow and arduous task of moving on—debris clearing, organizing and, ultimately, rebuilding.

In the process, Windom said they’ve been learning things about Brainard he never got around to mentioning.

“We didn’t know he has a degree in music,” he said, adding they’ve also discovered he had an undisclosed talent for public speaking. “There’s a side of him that we didn’t get to experience.”

Jones said she’s thankful she decided not to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a bar or nightclub.

“I decided to stay home with Bobby,” she said. “He’s better company than the bars anyways.”

She’ll always remember the moment when he instigated a dog altercation that night trying to take a picture with all their animals.

“They start fighting…he’s also holding the cats,” Windom said. “It was ridiculous.”

It’s such a nice memory—Brainard acknowledging the lack of New Year’s fanfare and yet utter zaniness at the same time—because it captures the sort of person he was.

“He was appreciating—” began Windom.

“—the little things…the simplicity of us just hanging out and being together,” Jones said. “He was very generous, wonderful, down-to-earth—huge heart…He was loved.”

The couple is welcoming members of the public to help clean the Boulder Creek property this weekend. To sign up, contact Xenia at 408-940-5602 or [email protected]. For the GoFundMe, visit

Boulder Creek house storm
A shrine is set up at the house with some of Brainard’s favorite items—the New York Giants snowman, his “Call of Duty: WWII” PS4 game, the “Made in Italy” Monte Pollino roasted garlic sauce, the Yamaha acoustic guitar, and blue volume with “The Book of Bob” written on the spine. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)
Previous articlePlain Talk About Food | Attitude Adjustment
Next articleCommunity rallies to save beloved Felton Mercantile
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here