Orlando, Fla.-based employees of transportation engineer eynolds, Smith & Hills Inc. (RS&H) have met with grief counselors following a random shooting by an ex-employee that killed one staffer and injured five others, including a state client official. The injured are all recovering.
On Nov. 6, about 30 people were working in the Orlando office of Jacksonville-based RS&H when Jason S. Rodriguez, 40, shot and killed Otis Beckford, 26, at random in the reception area, according to police. Beckford is believed to have been an AutoCAD technician and a three-year employee. Rodriguez left RS&H in 2007 related to performance issues, say company officials.
Four other employees and a visiting Florida Dept. of Transportation official were also shot and injured when Rodriguez entered the firm’s work area. RS&H employees injured are Gregory Hornbeck, 39; Guy Lugenbeel, 62; Edward Severino, 34; and Keyondra Harrison, 27. Also shot and injured was FDOT supervisor Ferrell Hickson, 40.
RS&H declined to provide employment details, but published reports say Severino is a structural engineer and Hornbeck and Lugenbeel are civil engineers. Harrison is listed as a transportation planner. RS&H is ranked 81 on ENR’s list of the Top 500 Design Firms, with $150 million in 2008 revenue.
“We’re very concerned about the healing process for our people and for Otis’ family,” says RS&H CEO Leerie T. Jenkins Jr. Beckford “was very dedicated.” Orlando police say they arrested Rodriguez within hours and charged him with first-degree murder. The arrest “took a lot of pressure off the associates in our company,” says Jenkins.
RS&H hired Rodriguez in 2006 as an entry-level engineer in the transportation and infrastructure group, says Mike Bernos, a spokesman. Previously, he worked for five years as an engineering plans processor for Tampa engineer PBSJ Corp., says spokeswoman Kathe Jackson.
RS&H officials had counseled Rodriguez during several performance reviews, but he resigned in June 2007, Jenkins says. “We tried to resolve those [issues] but came to a mutual understanding,” he adds. “We have a signed letter of resignation in [Rodriguez’] personnel file.” Jenkins says Rodriguez showed no signs of hostility or mental illness at RS&H.
Rodriguez worked for four months as an engineering inspector for the Orange County, Fla., Public Works Dept., says a spokesman. The county terminated him in June 2008 after he abandoned the job, according to personnel records. On Rodriguez’ online application to work for the county, he noted his PBSJ experience but did not list RS&H as a prior employer.
The Florida Dept. of Business & Professional Regulation says Rodriguez holds an engineering intern license and was eligible to take the professional engineers’ license exam. Information he gave Orange County says he graduated from Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico with a B.S. degree in civil engineering.
At his arrest, Rodriguez told police he was “going through a tough time right now,” says the police report. But it also says he told reporters that RS&H “left me to rot.” Rodriguez said he was harrassed at RS&H and that it hindered his unemployment benefits. Jenkins denies that claim. A Rodriguez attorney was quoted saying his client is “very mentally ill.”
Jenkins says “this was a one-off, random act.” Peers echo his sentiment. “This is truly a tragedy that could have happened to any firm,” says John Zumwalt, CEO of PBSJ, which found itself in the media glare in 2007 when its former chief financial officer, Scott DeLoach, was found embezzling company funds. He is now in prison. “We have experienced crisis and the far-reaching pain caused by rogue employees,” says Zumwalt.