BANGOR - Two women allegedly were killed by co-workers while on the job this month, both possible victims of personal relationships gone bad. The Friday afternoon shooting death of Allison Small of Vinalhaven, co-owner of Vinalhaven Transportation Inc., a trucking business located in Rockland, occurred 26 days after the Jan. 2 beating death of Erin Sperrey of Presque Isle, an assistant manager at Tim Hortons in Caribou.
It had been at least 12 years, possibly more, since a worker killed another worker in Maine, according to the most accessible Department of Labor statistics. "Most homicides in Maine are domestic violence related," said Laura Fortman, commissioner of the Labor Department, on Friday. "In Maine, you're more likely to be killed by someone you know."
That could be someone at work, a place where romance may take shape then fall apart.
"I don't think you have to actually be living with a person for it to be domestic violence," Fortman said. "All of us recognize that domestic violence does not just happen in the home. It's an issue that all of us have to recognize that it could take place in the workplace."
Small, Friday's victim, was trying to end an affair with a company truck driver, Douglas Dyer of Friendship, when she was shot, according to the Maine State Police. Dyer has been charged with murder and is being held at the Knox County Jail, police said.
Sperrey's alleged killer, co-worker Christopher Shumway of Caribou, had asked Sperrey out a few times on a date, one time as recently as a month before her death, and she had tried to turn him down, according to her family. Shumway remains in Aroostook County Jail.
It is not known whether Small may have thought that being at a public place such as work would be a better setting than a quiet one to end any form of a personal relationship, according to Michael Cantara, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, or if Sperrey may have felt safer at work than elsewhere to turn down Shumway's alleged advances. But, Cantara said, women need to watch for warning signs, such as a quick temper, jealousy, a controlling behavior or violence toward children or pets, and seek professional help to create a safe plan to end a relationship.
"The moment of separation or breaking up a relationship almost certainly places the woman at a high risk of injury or death," Cantara said. "To have a safety plan in mind is always a good idea. What that safety plan looks like depends on the situation. A public area might offer more safety but that's no guarantee."
He said agencies such as domestic violence prevention advocacy groups, police departments or the victim women advocacy group at the state Attorney General's Office can offer advice on how to end a relationship without it potentially turning into a violent situation.
Businesses, too, need to be better educated on how domestic violence can filter into the workplace, Fortman said. Last year, of the 217 assaults or violent acts that occurred in the workplace in Maine, 20 were by co-workers and 71 were by persons such as a customer, domestic partner or other individuals.
Warning signs that an employee is being threatened by a domestic partner include receiving repeated unwanted harassing e-mails or telephone calls, tardiness, inattention or unusual sloppy work performance, and fearful behavior.
Signs that an employee may become violent include sending harassing e-mails or telephone calls and displaying emotional volatility, according to prevention agencies. Fortman said programs and classes on how to spot the warning signs of domestic or other possible violence and how to handle those situations are available by contacting state or local violence prevention agencies. "That's not to say that having a policy in place will prevent that," she said. "I'm not suggesting that at all. There is no foolproof mechanism from keeping a tragedy like this from occurring. But be as prepared as possible. Have policies in place and educate people so that if there are warning signs we'd be able to warn women about them and help them."
Business owners interested in learning more about developing workplace domestic violence prevention policies can contact Maine Employers Against Domestic Violence at 941-1194; Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence at 941-1194, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and Web site at www.mcedv.org; or the Labor Department's SafetyWorks program at 624-6400 or www.safetyworksmaine.com.