For the family of slain coffee shop worker Erin Sperrey, every day is another chance to make workplaces safer. It's a mission the family has advanced passionately since early January when Sperrey was killed while working the night shift at a Tim Hortons restaurant in Caribou. Sperrey, who would have been 21 in February, was beaten to death on Jan. 2, allegedly by a co-worker. According to a court document, Christopher Shumway, 19, told police that he beat Sperrey with his hands and feet and strangled her, leaving her to die in one of the store's restrooms while he waited on customers.
In the minutes before her death, Sperrey was unable to push any kind of panic button - a silent alarm that would alert police - because her workplace had no such security equipment.
That has spurred Sperrey's family to launch Erin's Fund.
The fund, operated by Sperrey's mother, Johna Lovely, and her sister, Amanda McKnight, was created to implement security systems and procedures in workplaces where young people are employed, the two women said this week during an interview conducted by e-mail.
"We believe that all businesses should have security devices in place, including panic buttons, and that employees should be trained in the proper use of this equipment," McKnight said.
Their goal is to see all gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants and fast-food businesses in Aroostook County have the devices in place by the end of 2005. A Hampden alarm company has donated free installations and equipment.
Lovely and McKnight are encouraging employee training in workplace violence and keeping safe on the job through videotapes and workshops. They plan to buy videotapes that can be lent to local businesses and want to ensure that the workshops teach people to recognize the signs of harassment and stress the importance of reporting such incidents. While family members move these measures forward, they are using the fund to lobby for legislation that makes security and training mandatory in all businesses that employ young people. Sperrey's family expects a bill to be introduced in the Legislature.
"If our efforts save even one young person and their family from experiencing what we have been through since January 2nd, it is worth every minute of work," Lovely said. While workplace safety serves as its major focus, the fund also oversees the Erin Elizabeth Sperrey Memorial Scholarship, available for students who graduate from Presque Isle High School Alternative Education program. Sperrey, a 2002 graduate of the high school, was a participant in the program. The family will award the first scholarship in June in conjunction with Tim Hortons and the Maine Community Foundation. The family is funding these initiatives through donations to Erin's Fund and the sale of window-clinging memorial ribbons. Lovely and McKnight said the response they've received from the community for Erin's Fund has been mostly positive. Since January, they have raised about $4,000 for the fund and sold about 500 memorial ribbons. They cost $5 apiece.
The women said eight security systems have been installed in Aroostook County businesses, although they said they have had "some difficulty" in getting businesses to put in the equipment.
"These past 31/2 months our thoughts have been consumed with thinking about Erin not being with us. We miss her every minute of every day," Lovely said. "The only way we can cope now is to pour our energy into keeping Erin's memory alive and protecting our young people in her name." For more information, visit www.erinsfund.org.