Office worker slain at her desk Ex-boyfriend sought by police

September 16, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer Staff writers Glenn Small, Larry Carson, Michael James, Ed Brandt, Sheridan Lyons and Roger Twigg contributed to this article.

As her co-workers watched in horror, a 26-year-old Randallstown woman was shot to death at her desk yesterday at the PHH Fleetamerica office at Hunt Valley by a man who escaped in a car he hijacked nearby.

Police immediately broadcast an alert for the victim's former boyfriend, who also worked in the building, and took her current boyfriend in for his protection.

As the gunman ran from the fourth floor where the shooting occurred, he told Steve Viers, a PHH employee, "Call 911, someone's been shot!"

The gunman ran down International Circle to the nearby Medical Mutual Building, where he forced a Cockeysville woman out of her 1992 Ford Taurus in the parking lot and sped off. The woman was not injured, Baltimore County police said. The license number of the light blue car is ZMB352.

Police identified the dead woman as Dena Pettaway, 26, of the 4700 block of Hawksbury Road, who is believed to have been in the early stages of pregnancy. Company officials said she had worked there since January 1990 and was an analyst in the firm's vehicle expense reporting department.

One employee said that he heard Ms. Pettaway say, "Don't kill me! Don't kill me!" Witnesses told police that the gunman then fired either one or two shots that struck Ms. Pettaway in the head. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

About 10 other employees were in the immediate area and another 20 were in the general vicinity when the shooting occurred shortly after 8.30 a.m., police and company officials said.

Afterward, a police helicopter circled overhead as Kassie, a bomb-sniffing black Labrador, searched around the buildings in case the killer had thrown away the shiny revolver he used.

Police immediately broadcast a lookout for Preston Robert Fuller, 28, described as a black male, 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 220 pounds. He was last seen wearing a white shirt, dress gray trousers and a necktie.

Police checked his last known address, in the 4800 block of Reisterstown Road, but the suspect was still at large last night.

PHH officials said that Mr. Fuller worked in the company mailroom but was an employee of a mail-services firm employed by PHH. Police said that he had had a relationship with Ms. Pettaway, but they did not know its status.

Other sources said the shooting apparently resulted from a love triangle.

Witnesses told police that after he shot Ms. Pettaway, the gunman declared that he was going after the new boyfriend, a 25-year-old vending service driver.

Current boyfriend located

Police called the Linthicum office of Service America, the driver's employer, then traced his route. They located the man at the Pepsi Cola plant on Union Avenue in Hampden and picked him up for questioning and protection.

Meanwhile, at the Service America plant, workers locked the doors and lowered the blinds as Anne Arundel County police patrolled the outside, company sources said.

According to a supervisor who asked not to be identified, the driver told fellow workers that he had been dating Ms. Pettaway since they met last spring on his regular stop at PHH, where he filled vending machines.

The driver also met Mr. Fuller at PHH and sometimes chatted with him, the supervisor said. Recently, the driver told co-workers that he expected that something bad might happen because Mr. Fuller had told him that he suspected Ms. Pettaway was seeing someone.

Co-workers counseled

Company and police trauma counselors were brought to the PHH Fleetamerica offices to talk with employees after they were interviewed by police. A counseling room was established on each of the six floors of the building, which houses more than 800 employees. PHH manages more than 450,000 cars and trucks for corporate clients nationwide.

Workers who rushed from the building immediately after the shooting would not talk with reporters about their experience. Because of interviews and counseling, other employees remained in the six-story brown-brick building all day.

Among the few who did emerge, none wanted to be identified.

"The whole place is shaken, not much work done today," said one woman.

"It's awful, I don't understand it," said another.

"She [Ms. Pettaway] was a very nice person, it's a real tragedy," said a third.

At Ms. Pettaway's home in a quiet neighborhood of duplex houses on Hawksbury Road in Randallstown, a man wearing a "Pettaway Family Reunion" T-shirt said he was the victim's brother.

"It's still sinking in," he said, shaking his head, adding that the family was too upset to talk about Ms. Pettaway.

A couple next door said they had just arrived home from work and heard the news. Visibly shaken, they were en route to offer their condolences.

A half-block away, detectives in an unmarked car were keeping close watch on the house.

On the front porch of the Fuller family's rowhouse in Northwest Baltimore, a man who identified himself as Preston's father said that his son had been moody recently.

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