Incident allegedly involved couple arguing
Safety remains the top concern for utility providers, following a March attack on a Liberty Utilities employee working on Market Street in Hannibal.
Marion County Prosecuting Attorney David Clayton filed assault and robbery charges against brother and sister Devin and Mersady Bermea, who allegedly attacked Liberty Utilities employee Adam Adrian as he was checking a gas meter. Clayton said the incident reflects the dangers that utility employees face in their daily work and the importance of pursuing the charges on the “unprovoked attack” against Adrian, noting the incident's connection to the April fatal shooting of two Laclede Gas employees in St. Louis
“My father-in-law works as a utilities employee and gets calls out from time to time and has over his 20-year career. He’s helped make me aware of the challenges that workers can face when they show up at a person’s residence. Workers don’t know if they’ll face friendly or hostile persons in the neighborhoods in which they get called to,” said Clayton.
In Adrian's case, reports indicate there were people arguing close to his work site on Market St.
According to the probable cause statement, Devin and Mersady Bermea were arguing on the evening of Tuesday, March 21. Hannibal police officers responded to the scene, where they made contact with Mersady Bermea. Devin Bermea fled from officers on foot, and they contacted the Ralls County Sheriff's Department K-9 unit to assist in tracking him.
Adrian told officers he could hear the defendants screaming at one another nearby. He said they approached him and asked about his gas equipment. He remembered the male defendant “rushed” him, and he was either struck in the head or knocked to the ground by the male. He was unsure if he lost consciousness, but he said he remembered seeing the two defendants walking away with his flashlight.
Adrian reported that the male defendant threw the flashlight to the ground and tried to approach him again. Adrian was able to push him away and he told the two subjects he was calling the police.
Jeff McChristian, Operations Manager with Liberty Utilities, said the attack was the first incident of this nature to occur during the company's approximately three decades of service in Hannibal. The issue was “isolated” in nature, he said, but employees have since met to review self-awareness practices for safety. The company hosts regular safety training and communication with safety lead officials. McChristian said the incident “wasn't really an attack on Liberty Utilities.”
“Our guy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said, noting that Liberty Utilities would continue to investigate the incident.
Hannibal Board of Public Works crews travel in pairs for safety, like Hannibal police officers do, said Safety Coordinator Mark Hickerson. The second crew member can keep an eye on the situation and their fellow employee, ready to use the radio or a phone if a dangerous situation arises.
Ewell Lawson, Vice President of Communications, Government Affairs and Community Relations for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, said that safety is always the top priority for utility providers, but safety practices can vary depending on the size of the community.
He said municipal utility workers in metropolitan areas like Kansas City or Springfield might have more comprehensive safety measures in place, contrasting with smaller communities like New London “where everybody knows everybody.”
Lawson said that city councils govern and regulate municipal utility providers — like the Hannibal Board of Public Works — and employees are trained to work closely with city police in a potentially dangerous situation. He stressed that safety is the number one concern — whether the issue is safety surrounding high-voltage lines or maintaining safe conditions for themselves and members of the public.
“They're constantly talking about safety,” Lawson said.
Mike Schaefer, with the Marion County Highway Department, said employees depend on motorists to “keep an eye on the road” and be mindful of crews working in high-traffic areas along with more remote locations. He said employees keep an eye on each other and maintain contact by radio, but it's up to motorists to practice safe driving.
Adrian's attack was isolated, but Clayton said his office would remain vigilant in pursuing charges against defendants who are involved in such attacks and would protect employees who defend themselves.
“Workers from all forms of call-out service including EMS, fire, mail, water, electric, HVAC, cable and all other forms of responsive or delivery related personnel need to know that if they become the victims of crimes while on duty, my office will do all we can to get justice for them. In this case, Adam Adrian was doing his duty and was allegedly assaulted and forcibly stolen from, by no fault of his own. “I support necessary measures by employees to protect themselves from becoming victims of this kind of crime,” Clayton said. “I strongly support the 2nd amendment to the Constitution and the right of law-abiding Missourians to bear the right to carry in order to protect themselves. They need to know my office will stand by them if, God forbid, they are faced with the threat of harm and are required to defend themselves with force.”
Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org