A Westborough man who authorities say angrily locked a Verizon worker in an underground utility vault three years ago pleaded guilty in Worcester Superior Court Tuesday to kidnapping.
Howard W. Cook Jr., 73, of 12 Chestnut St., Westborough, was sentenced to one year of probation — six months of it supervised — and ordered to complete an anger management program.
The family of the Verizon technician, Michael Hathaway of Worcester, said they are unhappy with the disposition. They had asked that Cook at least be on house arrest for a period of time.
Cook, a retired utility official who has a long history of volatile action, locked Hathaway in the unventilated underground vault on Aug. 5, 2013, after the worker parked his Verizon vehicle on grass near Cook’s self-storage business at Research Drive and Connector Road in Westborough. Verizon has an easement to cross the property to access the vault which serves the nearby industrial park.
After “screaming and swearing” at the technician while he worked inside the vault, Cook pulled the extension ladder out of the vault, locked the hatch and placed large rocks on top of it, police said. The technician was in danger because when the door is closed, the vault becomes dark and airtight, and the ventilation system automatically shuts off.
Hathaway used his cellphone to call police to let him out.
When police went to Cook’s home to retrieve the technician’s personal keys he took from the vehicle, authorities said Cook admitted to locking the worker in the vault. He also allegedly told police that he did not care when he was told the man could have died in the vault.
Hathaway, who has undergone counseling and suffers from PTSD as a result of the experience, and his wife, Mary, filed a civil suit in Worcester Superior Court in 2014 against Cook and his company, U-Stor Self Storage, Inc.
The couple contends that U-Stor was negligent in failing to properly supervise and control Cook with regard to his actions on Aug. 5, 2013. The other defendants in the pending case are Milton H. Steen and Edward J. McTighe, both of Westborough, who were the other officers of the corporation when the incident occurred, according to the Secretary of State’s corporation data base.
In 2015, Cook’s wife, Mary Ann Cook, replaced Steen and McTighe. The corporation was dissolved March 18 of this year.
Cook’s volatile temper has led to problems not only in Westborough.
In 2006, a Wrentham District Court judge ordered him to pay a woman $500 after he damaged her vehicle when it was parked close to his vehicle at a restaurant in Franklin by banging his door against her vehicle several times.
In 2011, the owner of Kretch’s Restaurant on Marco Island, Florida, where Cook lives part of the year, said he had to call police to remove Cook after he became irate and threw his plate of food to the floor because the restaurant had just run out of his order of twice-baked potato.