PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A community is mourning a local artist after he was hit and killed when a suspected drunk driver went off the road.
James Fenimore, who went by Jimi Rockola, was a part of the Milepost 5 Studios Artists Collective. Those in his circle say he was known for seeing the potential in everyday items and turning them into something beautiful.
“He’d walk into a room smiling and laughing. His spirit was infectious,” Sarah Gerhardt, Jimi’s friend, said. “Everything had possibilities. You would see a piece of garbage on the ground and Jimi would see an airplane or a rollercoaster or something way different.”
Friends say Jimi was the heart of the artists’ collective with a kind soul and a creative eye for turning the ordinary into art.
“He had a really rough life and to have that kind of spirit still, that just says so much about the kind of person he was,” Gerhardt said. “He wasn’t just an artist, a visual artist, he was a musician and a writer and all of those things.”
Jimi had recently lost his apartment and was waiting to get into affordable housing, still spending much of his time with his fellow artists and never losing his spirit. Gerhardt had been with him when he left to make bottle deposits late Saturday night on Oct. 21. She didn’t expect someone else to return in his place.
“They were like, ‘Do you guys know Jimi?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, what’s going on?’ I felt my heart sink and he said, ‘I think Jimi was just in an accident,'” Gerhardt recalled.
Portland Police responded to the crash at Burnside and NE 82nd Avenue. Jimi, who was 66, died at the scene.
“I had to inform all of his family,” Gerhardt said. “We’re all heartbroken here. It was a big loss. He was kind of the heart of the team.”
Police say speed and alcohol were likely factors and the suspected driver, Vichea Pok, 39, was taken to the hospital with severe injuries and cited for DUI and manslaughter.
Gerhardt has a message for the driver.
“I would like to say to the guy who was driving, how dare you? How dare you get into a car, even after one beer, and how dare you take away Jimi from us, away from the world? He had at least 20 or 30 more years in him and he could’ve provided such amazing things for other people,” Gerhardt said.
Friends say Jimi will never be forgotten as his legacy will live on through art and those who knew him.
“He really inspired other people here who had maybe been a little bit counted out in life to do something with their idle hands that was positive,” Gerhardt said.
A GoFundMe was set up to help with Jimi’s cremation and memorial service. Folks can also donate directly to the Milepost 5 Studios Artists Collective nonprofit. Friends say anything leftover will go into the “Jimi Rockola Starving Artist Fund” to help any others from the building if they get behind on bills or rent so they don’t go through what Jimi did.