DETROIT (Sept. 20, 2012) — Chrysler Group L.L.C.'s Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit was idled today after a worker was stabbed to death by another during a fight inside the plant this morning.
“Chrysler Group is deeply saddened by events that occurred at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant this morning,” the company said in a statement.
“Two employees were involved in an altercation inside the plant. One employee was stabbed and unfortunately pronounced dead at the scene. The Detroit Police Department is currently investigating. Production has been suspended for this morning and employees are being released.”
Chrysler later said it would resume production at the plant with the morning shift at 6 a.m. Friday.
“As for production this afternoon, we've elected to cancel the second shift of production,” Scott Garberding, Chrysler's senior vice president of manufacturing, said at a press conference this afternoon. “I do want to emphasize that all employees should after second shift today report at their regular start times, including the third shift.”
Local media reported that police confirmed the suspect involved in the stabbing had taken his own life at nearby Belle Isle in downtown Detroit.
The 2.7 million-square-foot plant on Detroit's east side assembles the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango and employs almost 2,900 people.
The victim was later identified as Keith Readus. The assailant was identified as Jeff Hunter. Both had worked in the plant's materials department for nearly 18 years, said co-worker Deborah Taylor.
Ms. Taylor also worked in the plant's materials department, which delivers sequenced parts to the assembly line as they are needed. She had hired into the plant at the same time as both Messrs. Readus and Hunter.
Ms. Taylor said the altercation between the two men took place in the loading dock area on the plant's east side, where parts are delivered by tractor-trailer rigs and where nearby workers were gathering for an 8 a.m. break.
“There was blood everywhere, more blood than you can imagine one body could have,” Ms. Taylor said via telephone, her voice still quivering.
Mr. Readus previously had been a union steward for six years in the plant for United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 7. Though he no longer held the elected position, he was very well known among the plant's workers, Ms. Taylor said.
The seriousness of what had happened in the plant wasn't immediately known to either the company or most of the workers, Ms. Taylor said.
“The bell had rung for us to return from our break, the line had started to run, but people were too torn up,” she said. “After some time, they held a meeting in the middle of the aisleway. They were told that it was a murder scene, that the building had been locked down, and that we couldn't leave. We were told police were searching” for the suspect.
Police and plant officials later were able to determine that Mr. Hunter had exited the building, but far away from where the assault had occurred, Ms. Taylor said. His body was later discovered by police in a parked Jeep in a nearby city park with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, police told local media.
The UAW, in a statement released today, said: “The UAW expresses our deepest sympathy to the families of our members involved in the tragic incident today at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Although many details are unknown at this time, we are deeply saddened by the loss of life.”
The assembly plant has been scheduling regular overtime work to keep up with demand for the hot-selling Grand Cherokee.
On Sept. 1, Chrysler had about 33,500 units—a 70-day supply—of the SUV in unsold inventory. The Durango had 11,900 units in unsold inventory nationwide, or a 111-day supply.
Chrysler has been working for months to add a third shift of about 1,100 workers to Jefferson North, and said earlier this summer that it now plans to add the shift by December. The plant builds an average of about 750 vehicles per day across its two shifts, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
There were eight homicides in automobile manufacturing plants between 1997 and 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. In five of those cases, the assailants were either co-workers or former co-workers of the victims.
Among those incidents was a shooting in Chrysler's Toledo North Assembly plant in January 2005 that left two people dead, including the perpetrator, and two other workers there injured. In that incident, a 54-year-old repairman shot three supervisors, one fatally, before turning his gun on himself and taking his own life.
Reporters Philip Nussel and Vince Bond contributed to this report, which appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based companion publication of Tire Business.