Florida Design Firm Regroups After Ex-Employee’s Fatal Rampage
Orlando, Fla.-based employees of transportation engineer Reynolds, Smith & Hills Inc. (RS&H) have met with grief counselors following a Nov. 6 random shooting by a troubled ex-engineer employee that killed one current staffer and injured five others, including a state agency client official. The injured are all recovering.
About 30 people were working in the Orlando office of Jacksonville-based RS&H when, according to police reports, Jason S. Rodriguez, 40, allegedly walked in, drew a handgun from a holster beneath his shirt and fired two shots at Otis Beckford, who was in the firm’s reception area. The 26-year-old AutoCAD technician in the transportation and infrastructure group, who had worked for the firm for three years, was killed. Rodriguez had left the firm in 2007 related to performance issues, according to company officials.
Five others, four employees and a visiting official from the Florida Dept. of Transportation, also were shot by Rodriguez when he entered the firm’s common area, and suffered injuries, according to police. RS&H transportation infrastructure employees injured were Gregory Hornbeck, 39; Guy Lugenbeel, 62; Edward Severino, 34; and Keyondra Harrison, 27. Also shot was FDOT employee Ferrell Hickson, 40.
“We’re very concerned about the healing process for our people and also for Otis' family,” says RS&H Chairman and CEO Leerie T. Jenkins Jr. “They are part of the RS&H family now.” Beckford "was a wonderful person and a very dedicated associate, who was always upbeat.” he says. “We are very sorry for his loss.”
Orlando police say they apprehended Rodriguez within hours and charged him with first degree murder. “It was a relief [for the police] to catch the suspect as quickly as they did,” Jenkins says. “It took a lot of pressure off the associates in our company.”
RS&H had hired Rodriguez in 2006 as an entry-level engineer in the transportation and infrastructure group, says Mike Bernos, a company spokesman. Previously, he had worked for five years as an engineering plans processor for Tampa-based engineering firm PBS&J Corp., says Kathe Jackson, its vice president of corporate communications.
At RS&H, officials had counseled Rodriguez during several review periods for performance issues, Jenkins says, but he resigned from the firm in June 2007. “We tried to resolve those [performance issues] but came to a mutual understanding,” Jenkins says. “We have a signed letter of resignation in his personnel file.”
Jenkins says Rodriguez showed no signs of hostility or mental illness when employed with the company, and Jenkins was not aware of anyone at the firm having had contact with him since he left. “We saw no indication of him being upset or anything of that nature,” Jenkins says. “It’s been two-and-a-half years. And since then, he has worked for others.”
Rodriguez worked for four months as an engineering inspector for the Orange County, Fla. Public Works Dept, says spokesman Steve Triggs. The county terminated him in June 2008, after he abandoned the job, according to his personnel file. In a letter to Rodriguez, Julie R. Naditz, manager of the county’s Highway Construction Division, outlines that because Rodriguez walked off the job, gave verbal notice that he quit, and did not return to work or contact the division, he was terminated effective June 20, 2008. On Rodriguez’ online application to work for Orange County Government, he noted his experience at PBSJ, but did not list RS&H as a prior employer.
The Florida Dept. of Business & Professional Regulation indicates that Rodriguez holds a license as an engineering intern and that he is eligible to take the professional engineers’ lcensing exam. According to information he provided Orange County and is contained in his personnel file, Rodriguez graduated from Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.
Hornbeck, Severino and Hickson are licensed engineers in Florida, according to records. RS&H declined to provide any additional employment details about its injured employees. But according to published reports, Severino is a structural engineer and Hornbeck and Lugenbeel are civil engineers. Harrison, the other injured RS&H employee, is listed as a transportation planner. FDOT official Hickson has worked for FDOT since 1993, most recently as a supervisor in its drainage department, says Steve Olson an agency spokesman.
None of the injuries were considered life threatening, say hospital spokespersons. Only one of those shot remains hospitalized, and is in stable condition, says a spokesman.
Using information from eyewitnesses, Orlando police located Rodriguez at the home he shared with his mother, according to the police report. He appeared at a window with his hands up and was taken into custody without incident, according to the police report.
While being handcuffed, the police report states that Rodriguez said, “I’m just going through a tough time right now, I’m sorry.” The report includes that he later told reporters questioning him as police escorted him into the department offices, “They know why I did it. They left me to rot.”
Rodriguez had told police that he had worked at RS&H for five years but resigned to get a better job, according to the affidavit. He also stated to police that people in the RS&H office harassed him and made it appear he was incompetent. He also said had filed for unemployment insurance, but claimed RS&H was hindering his efforts to obtain benefits. Jenkins denies that claim.
Rodriguez also had a prior incident of workplace violence while working for another non-engineering employer in September, say police. This apparently is not Rodriguez’ first episode of workplace violence.
Police have allowed tenants in offices at the Gateway Center to enter the building, Jenkins says. Repair and maintenance crews will clean up the RS&H offices before employees are allowed to return. Jenkins did not know when that would occur. Jenkins plans to talk with the building’s landlord, Parkway Properties of Jackson, Miss., about additional security for all companies in the high-rise. This type of situation makes us all pause and look at different things,” Jenkins says. “This was a one-off, random act. It’s very difficult to stop for any company.”
Peers echo his comment. “This is truly a tragedy and we share the grief of RS&H. This could have happened to any firm,” says John Zumwalt, CEO of PBSJ, which was forced in 2007 to contend with a former chief financial officer, who had been embezzling company funds and was prosecuted. "We have experienced crisis and the far-reaching pain caused by rogue employees. No doubt that the RS&H family will come together and emerge stronger from this tragedy.”