Originally created 09/13/98

Victims still remember plant attack



AIKEN -- Lt. Stan Vance had expected Hastings Wise to come by the guard house at R.E. Phelon Co. at some point to pick up his belongings, left behind in his locker the day he was fired nearly two months earlier.

He didn't figure on being shot at point-blank range, the first man down as police say Mr. Wise walked through the plant firing round after round from a semi-automatic handgun.

Four employees were killed and three others, including Mr. Vance, were wounded.

Mr. Vance said Mr. Wise walked up to him and said, "Stan, I've got things to do."

With that he put the gun to Mr. Vance's chest and fired.

"I was the security officer and he had to get me out of the way," Mr. Vance said.

In his 21-year career as a security guard, he said his two-year stint at Phelon wasn't considered risky.

"This was so calm, you wouldn't think you'd need it (gun)," he said.

The date was almost one year ago, on Sept. 15. It was about 3 p.m., as shifts were changing.

The world changed that day for the seven victims and hundreds of Phelon employees who lived through that nightmare.

It's the kind of thing that always happens to other people, that would never be expected in serene, small-town Aiken.

But there it was. Four dead -- Sheryl Wood, 27, David Moore, 30, Leonard Filyaw, 30, and Charles Griffeth, 56 -- and three wounded -- Mr. Vance, John Mucha and Jerry Corley.

Only one year before on Sept. 16, 1996, three caseworkers for the Department of Social Services had been shot to death at their North Augusta office: Josie Curry, 35, Michael Gregory, 30, and Jimmy Riddle, 52.

David Mark Hill is charged in connection with their slayings, and will face the death penalty if jurors convict him.

No trial date is set for Mr. Hill. A gag order has been imposed by the trial judge on all parties involved with the case.

Most of the victims from Phelon and their families declined to be interviewed as the anniversary approached, either because it was too emotionally difficult or from legal concerns over the prosecution of Mr. Wise.

Jan Davis, secretary for Dale Phelon, president and owner of Phelon, said Mr. Phelon would prefer the anniversary date go unnoticed.

She said Mr. Phelon feels the tragedy is a private matter best left to everyone to deal with in his or her own way.

A Phelon Victims' Memorial Fund remains open at NationsBank. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1254, Aiken, S.C., 29802.

By Christmas of last year, more than $88,000 had been raised for distribution to the families of the four slain.

Phelon donated $50,000 of the amount and the rest came from community donations. United Way handled the distribution.

"It's been a really crucial year for me," Mr. Vance said Tuesday reflecting on what he's lived through.

For 45 minutes to an hour on Sept. 15, Mr. Vance lay on the floor of the guard house as police converged on the plant after the initial 911 call.

"It was nerve-racking. I really thought in my mind, `I'm dying,"' Mr. Vance said. "It's a miracle of God, I'm here. For four days, they expected me to die."

Since then he has undergone multiple surgeries and may face additional surgery.

Although no longer in a wheelchair, Mr. Vance has a limp and 24-hour pain caused from nerve damage from the bullet that just missed his spine.

Mr. Mucha and Mr. Corley are back at work at Phelon.

Mr. Corley still has a bullet lodged in his hip. It's a permanent reminder and one that can't be removed surgically without almost certain nerve damage.

He has continued to work for Phelon but is reluctant to talk about his experiences or the future trial.

"There's a lot of emotion there," he said. "I'm trying to keep things in."

Mr. Vance, 51, says he is permanently disabled and doesn't expect ever to work again. He has sued Phelon, accusing the company of negligence, but wouldn't talk about details of the suit.

Attorneys for Phelon in court documents have denied any wrongdoing by Phelon, saying the blame for what happened lies with Mr. Wise alone.

Police said Mr. Wise walked through the plant, first killing Mr. Griffeth, the human resources director. Mr. Moore and Mr. Filyaw were gunned down in the tool and die department, and Ms. Wood was found lying in the rear parking lot.

Some employees said Mr. Wise had been friendly to them. But others said he had made threats when he was fired that he'd be back.

They said Mr. Wise had applied for positions in tool and die and quality assurance and was upset that he hadn't gotten them.

Mr. Vance described Mr. Wise as "not a friendly person." But he doesn't think Mr. Wise had anything against him personally, and needs help.

"I could tell he was very sick," Mr. Vance said. "I don't want to see him die. I'd like for him to suffer the pain some of us have gone through."