LAUDERDALE LAKES, Fla.-First, she got mad. Real mad. Then she tried to get even. And now she may have a long, long time to think about what she did. All over repairs to her car.
It was an uneventful May 25 evening at the Pep Boys store in Lauderdale Lakes when 29-year-old Stephanie E. Harden came into the auto service department with her boyfriend and began complaining about some work the shop had done on her 1985 Volvo's steering system.
From Pep Boys' Philadelphia headquarters, Fred Stampone, senior vice president of administration, picks up the story: ``She never really told us the nature of her problem, and never really allowed us to deal with the problem. She lost control, yelling and screaming, and within a very short period of time, threatened our service manager that she was going to bring back a shotgun and shoot everyone and burn the store down.''
Like Schwarzenegger in the ``Terminator'' movies, she vowed to ``be back.'' But luckily, unlike the recent rash of workplace shootings, this story has a relatively happy, though costly, ending.
The disgruntled customer left. However, the following morning, according to Mr. Stampone, she did return. With a vengeance.
Armed with a can of gasoline, she bypassed the 11-bay auto service shop attached to the Pep Boys outlet, he said, and calmly walked into the store. Without saying anything, she doused gas on the service manager's area as well as the store's ``major item wall''-which displayed stereo equipment and other products-lit several matches, then walked to her car and drove away.
Store employees sprang into action, using 10 fire extinguishers to put out the resulting blaze, which caused smoke damage to the store and destroyed all the products in a 40-foot-long section, Mr. Stampone reported. No one was injured.
Meanwhile, employees identified the woman's boyfriend, seen in the store parking lot watching the arriving fire trucks and activity. He was collared, questioned, then released by sherriff's deputies, who minutes later also apprehended Ms. Harden six blocks away, the gas can still in her car.
Sgt. Dennis Regan, supervisor of the Broward County Sheriff's Department Bomb and Arson Unit, told TIRE BUSINESS the unit has concluded its investigation of the case. Ms. Harden, of Fort Lauderdale, was released on $5,000 bond after being charged with first degree arson. If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison.
The Pep Boys service center had received several calls from Ms. Harden about resolving her complaint, Sgt. Regan said. ``Then her boyfriend called the store and said she was getting toward the point of violence, and that they should probably help her out because he couldn't control her anymore....''
After the fire was extinguished, the store closed for the remainder of May 26, but reopened the following day. Fire officials told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel damages were estimated at $50,000.
``We were very, very fortunate she didn't douse some person with gas, or carry out her other threat to come back with a shotgun,'' Mr. Stampone said. ``We've all heard those horror stories before.
``I asked our vice president of service about the most extreme case we've had previous to this. He said a customer had thrown a battery at someone and broke his wrist, but nothing like this has ever happened before.''
In the wake of the arson, the Lauderdale Lakes store has not added security, he said. ``We have no reason to believe (Ms. Harden) will be in a situation to create any further damage.''
It could have been a lot worse. Sgt. Regan admitted South Florida gets ``a lot of revenge shootings, but this is the first time...someone has called a business, angry over something, threatened to set the place on fire, then walked in and did just that.''