Self-Storage Owner Faces Kidnapping Charges After Verizon Worker Is Locked Inside Vault


Update 10/14/13 – Westboro Self Storage owner Howard W. Cook, accused of kidnapping and other charges stemming from an August incident in which he allegedly barricaded a Verizon worker inside a utility vault, is next scheduled to appear in Westborough, Mass., District Court on Dec. 12. He had a pretrial hearing on Sept. 25.

Update 8/23/13 – Embattled self-storage owner Howard W. Cook has previously displayed defiance when confronted by local law enforcement, according to police records obtained through a public-information request by The MetroWest Daily News. Cook was warned in 2004 that he could be charged with larceny under $250 after he admitted to removing real estate signs he believed violated Westborough, Mass., bylaws.

After being informed by police that the realtor had obtained permission from the property owner to display the signs on her lawn, Cook apparently argued with an officer that the signs broke the law even if the landowner granted permission.

“During my conversation with Mr. Cook, it was apparent that he has taken on the role of a vigilante, targeting the real estate profession,” wrote Officer Glenn McLeod. “He is deeply bothered by the appearance of real estate signs throughout the town.”

The incident is similar to Cook’s encounter with police earlier this month when he allegedly barricaded a Verizon technician inside a utility vault, after the worker lawfully parked on the lawn at Westboro Self Storage. When police explained the worker could have died if the ventilation system shut off, Cook reportedly said, “I don’t care.”

Cook also refused to return the worker’s keys to police who had to retrieve them from his residence. Although Cook admitted to having the keys, earlier reports said the self-storage owner told officers he found them on the ground. However, the police report indicates Cook told police his landscaper found the keys while mowing the lawn at the facility and gave them to him. The landscaper told police he knew nothing about the worker’s keys or the incident at the facility until he read about it in the newspaper.

Cook is scheduled for a pretrial hearing on Sept. 25.

Update 8/15/13 – Westboro Self Storage owner Howard W. Cook was arraigned in court yesterday after allegedly barricading a Verizon worker inside an underground utility vault earlier this month. Cook faces several charges, including kidnapping. He has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors provided additional details regarding the Aug. 5 incident, in which Cook reportedly was angry that Verizon technician Michael Hathaway, 45, had parked his work vehicle on the storage facility’s grass. Hathaway told police that Cook screamed and swore at him while he was working inside the vault before removing an extension ladder, closing the lid and placing two 10-pound rocks on top of the hatch.

Verizon has the “right-of-way” to park on the grass to access the vault, which services a nearby industrial park, authorities said.

Police said Hathaway was in danger of running out of oxygen because the vault is airtight once the lid is closed and the ventilation system shuts off automatically. Hathaway was locked inside the vault for about 10 minutes before being freed by police.

When police told Cook about the seriousness of the locked vault, the storage owner “basically stated that he didn’t care,” prosecutor Julieanne Richard said during the proceedings.

Cook’s attorney, James Gribouski, said if the description of the vault is true, then it could be considered a hazardous workplace and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should be contacted.

Gribouski described Cook, 71, as a 47-year resident of Westborough and an upstanding citizen with no criminal convictions. Cook has two grown children and four grandchildren. He is a former Little League coach and served as president of the local United Way and vice president of the Chamber of Commerce. He retired in 1993 as a vice president of New England Electric, now called National Grid.

Cook admitted to police that he took Hathaway’s keys but told investigators he found them on the ground. He refused to return the keys until police retrieved them from his residence.

Hathaway’s wife, Mary, told reporters outside the courtroom that her husband “was shaking and in fear” after the incident.

Richard requested Cook be issued a $5,000 bond and ordered to wear a GPS monitoring device and stay away from Hathaway. Judge Robert Calagione released Cook without bail and ordered him to keep his distance from Hathaway.

A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Sept. 25.

Update 8/8/13 – When police informed Westboro Self Storage owner Howard W. Cook about the serious nature of barricading a Verizon technician inside an airtight vault, the 71-year-old told them, “That’s not my problem,” investigators said.

Cook is accused of locking the worker inside an underground vault during a dispute and faces several charges, including kidnapping. Police Chief Alan Gordon said the worker was in danger of running out of oxygen.

“We located the owner of the self-storage facility, but he didn’t seem overly concerned,” Gordon said. “He said, ‘That’s not my problem.’”

News video about the incident, including images of the vault and audio of the worker’s 911 call, can be accessed on the “Boston Herald” website.

8/6/13 – The owner of Westboro Self Storage in Westborough, Mass., is facing several charges, including kidnapping and larceny, after allegedly barricading a Verizon worker inside an underground vault on Monday. Howard W. Cook, 71, was upset because the Verizon technician had parked his vehicle on the grass of the storage facility, according to police.

The Verizon worker called police from inside the vault at the intersection of Research Drive and Connector Road. When the responding officer arrived at the scene, large rocks had been piled on top of the vault cover to prevent the technician from escaping, according to Police Chief Alan Gordon.

The worker told police he was working inside the vault when a man yelled at him and then removed a ladder and closed the cover, locking him inside.

Police reportedly worked with both men to resolve the dispute at the scene, and Cook was not arrested at that time. The Verizon employee later called police when he could not locate his keys. Cook admitted to police he had taken the keys from the worker’s vehicle but refused to return them, Gordon said. An officer then visited Cook’s residence and recovered the keys from the self-storage owner’s vehicle.

Cook will be arraigned in district court on charges of kidnapping, breaking and entering a vehicle during daylight, receiving stolen property and larceny under $250, Gordon said.

No injuries were reported, although Gordon said the closed vault was airtight and endangered the worker’s oxygen supply.

Because Research Drive is a state highway, Verizon vehicles must park on surrounding properties in order to access their vaults, Gordon said.


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