Truck routes triggered distributor murders

June 1, 2000
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PELHAM, Ala. — The three shooting victims have been buried, the alleged assailant Alan Eugene Miller has been charged with capital murder, and Ferguson Enterprises, the large hvac distributor that employed two of the victims, is back in business — but with many questions.

Killed were Christopher Yancy, 28, and Lee Holdbrooks, 32, both Ferguson employees; and Terry Jarvis, 39, who worked at Post Airgas. Jarvis’ funeral was Saturday, Aug. 7; funerals for Holdbrooks and Yancy were held Sunday Aug. 8 and Monday Aug. 9, respectively.

Ferguson reopened Aug. 10; Post reopened Aug. 9.

Police charged Miller, a 34-year-old Ferguson employee, with three counts of capital murder. He formerly worked at Post Airgas, but had been laid off earlier this year because of “economic downsizing,” his mother told reporters.

Pelham police think the motive that triggered the shooting was something as a prosaic as a wholesale delivery truck route.

Bad route

“That guy got mad because he wasn’t getting the [delivery] routes he wanted,” said Chad Ingram, a friend of Holdbrooks. “He was thinking Lee was getting better routes.”

As Ingram explained it, longer routes involved fewer stops and less loading than the shorter routes. Both Miller and Holdbrooks were route drivers. Yancy was a dispatcher at Ferguson.

Delivery of goods is at the heart of the hvacr wholesaling industry, which has made vast improvements in the scheduling of shipments both incoming and outgoing.

Authorities have not said whether Miller may have been influenced by the shooting rampage of Mark Barton in Atlanta just one week earlier. In a press conference a few hours after the shootings, they simply described Miller as “angry.”

A spokesman at the heating and cooling division offices of Ferguson Enterprises, Birmingham, told The News he knew of no history or background of violence for Miller.

Aug. 5 agenda

His mother reportedly said Miller had left for work on Aug. 5 at his usual time with a soft drink and some sausage biscuits.

At a bond hearing Aug. 9 in Shelby County, District Attorney Robby Owens said Miller had a gun with him when he left home, and shot the two Ferguson employees soon after he reached that business. At both Ferguson and Post, at least one employee of each firm begged for their lives and were allowed to leave.

Police reports say Miller killed the two victims at Ferguson about 7 a.m. Aug. 5, then drove to Post Airgas where he killed Jarvis a short while later.

Eyewitnesses at Post heard Miller say, “I’m tired of your rumors about me,” before he allegedly shot Jarvis there.

A local business manager told The News that Miller told someone at Post he was headed to Holcombe Building Supply, but police apprehended him as he entered Interstate 65 in Alabaster, possibly on his way to that business. A handgun was found on the seat of his car.

The Birmingham Post-Herald reported that Miller watched coverage of the Atlanta shootings on TV and told his mother he was glad he wasn’t there that day.

Miller is being held without bond in the Shelby County Jail.

Getting coworkers to speak out

There is a way for contractors and distributors to help employees feel more comfortable coming forward with information that could possibly prevent a tragedy.

One effective way to identify (and thus have the opportunity to correctly deal with) a potentially violent employee, client, or customer is through employee education and the adoption of a “Confidential Information Collection and Evaluation Center” (CICEC), according to the Workplace Violence Research Institute, Palm Springs, Calif. (www.work placeviolence.com).

Seminars or workshops to discuss workplace violence and the adoption of a CICEC help employees understand that bringing odd behavior to the attention of the company does not constitute “ratting” on a coworker.

“Not until the system is explained to them in a training session do they realize that reporting such potentially dangerous behavior is in the best interest of all, including the offender,” states the institute.

Only if management is aware can it take appropriate actions, including counseling for the troubled employee.

How it works

When using the CICEC system, employees are given a toll-free, 24-hr phone number to report suspect behavior by a coworker, client, or customer.

Once an employee files such a report, s/he is issued a personal identification number (PIN) to ensure continued anonymity and asked to call back at the end of the next business day. The information is then checked against other information previously received on the same individual.

The evaluator, who needs to be an expert on occupational violence, will brief appropriate company executives and make recommendations about actions that should be taken. The requested callback by the reporting employee gives the evaluator the opportunity to obtain clarification or additional information.

“To be effective, all employees must have complete trust in the integrity and confidentiality of the CICEC,” states the institute. “For this reason, only very large corporations should have this function in-house.” Others may select a well-established, reputable outside firm to handle this task.

Unfortunately, “There is no indication that the social and other issues that are believed to be the underlying causes for the dramatic increase in occupational violence will change in the near future,” according to the institute. “On the contrary, experts believe that violence as a form of communication and conflict resolution will continue to increase.

“There simply is no good reason for a business, large or small, not to have a Workplace Violence Prevention Program in place.”

Sidebar: Who's most likely to erupt into violence?

The following criteria were compiled by the Workplace Violence Research Institute, Palm Springs, Calif.

The institute pointed out that while it’s true that “commonalities exist among the offenders of past workplace violence, and that these characteristics will probably appear in future suspects. . . . it would be a grave mistake to disregard suspected symptoms simply because the individual does not fit the description of the profile.”

Following are some of the characteristics identified in offenders of workplace-related violence:

  • White male, 35 to 45 years old;

  • Migratory job history;

  • Loner with little or no family or social support;

  • Chronically disgruntled;

  • Rarely accepts responsibility for things gone wrong;

  • Takes criticism poorly;

  • Identifies with violence;

  • More than a casual user of drugs and/or alcohol;

  • Keen interest in firearms and other dangerous weapons.

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