PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The wife a Portsmouth city employee who was gunned down on the job spoke to 10 On Your Side Thursday.
56-year-old Willie Allen, a city employee for 37 years, was killed after responding to an alarm call Tuesday morning at a pump station. Allen’s widow, Regina Allen, says she is heartbroken by the loss.
“I want some answers, and I need answers,” she said as tears streamed down her face.
Regina met WAVY’s Andy Fox at their home. She had her two grown children with her. Willie was their stepfather, but he treated them like his own, according to both children.
“He was an excellent male figure in my life,” says Regina’s daughter, Alexis McNeal.
Regina wants answers on who could have shot dead her husband, who she married last June. She last saw him walking out the door 3:50 a.m. Tuesday. He said, “All right babe. I’m gone. I love you. I’ll be back shortly. It shouldn’t take me long.”
Willie Allen was responding to an alarm at a pump station located on Effingham Street, at the on ramp towards the Downtown Tunnel heading east. He was called to respond all the time during night hours.
“Of everybody at that job, most of them were trained by him to do their job. He took them under his wing, showed them what they needed to do,” Regina said. “I knew his job is to get up, and go out the door. They could have had more communication with him at that moment.”
According to Public Utilities Director Erin Trimyer, there was a pump station alarm around 3:00 a.m. Tuesday, and Willie Allen was called to respond around 3:30 a.m. He left his house around 4:00 a.m. and responded to the alarm. At 6:25 a.m., Allen sent a text, and that was likely the last anyone heard from him.
“I put his hat and his clothes on the bed beside me, so when I go to sleep, I at least feel that warmth,” Regina said.
Allen was beloved by his coworkers in the Public Utilities department.
“He was a good man. He taught them everything they needed to know. If they had to go out in the field, they would call him. He would wake up in the middle of the night, and then he would say, ‘OK, I will be out there.'”
Regina would often go to work sites with Willie, and she could have gone Tuesday morning. That’s left her with a lot of ‘what if’s.’
“Normally I would take the truck and follow him with the company truck, and be out there with him on the scene… Maybe if I had been there, maybe it wouldn’t have happened like that,” Regina said. “He is going to be missed. I can’t lay down at night and I know that he is gone. I have no closure to it.”
Regina has the last text Willie wrote to her at 6:25 a.m., after he fixed the pump and was headed home.
Willie texted Regina, “Will you open door?” Regina responded, “Okay.”
“I figured he was right outside, so I kept looking for him… Cars would pass in front of the house, and I would think he was coming up,” Regina said.
Sometime after that text message, someone shot and killed Willie. That was the last known communication from him. Unaware he was dead, Regina kept texting him: “WYA,” “You that busy or what,” “Hello,” “What’s going on.” She didn’t get a response to any of the messages.
That last text from Regina asking where he was sent at 10:30 a.m., which was 45 minutes after 9:45 a.m., when Willie’s body was found at the pump station by a neighbor of the station who then called police.
The amount of time it took for Portsmouth Public Utilities to realize Willie had been killed on the job raises concerns for his widow.
It wouldn’t be until shortly after noon that Willie’s supervisor finally reached Regina, who says he would not tell her anything, except that a detective wants to talk to her.
“I was wondering, is he involved in a murder or something? I had no idea he was the one that was murdered.”
Regina wonders if the Public Utilities dispatcher was trying to reach Willie.
“All they had to do to figure it out where did the last call come from… and go there… You would have been there to know what is going on.”
Regina thinks it’s clear there were communication issues with Public Utilities.
Director Erin Trimyer said Wednesday that they had been trying to contact Willie.
“So, we knew he responded to that call, but we had been unable to get in touch with him for a couple of hours.”
When 10 On Your Side called Trimyer Thursday to respond to Regina’s concerns, she responded with this: “It is logical for dispatch to send a crew to the last known call.”
Trimyer said they had been looking for Allen for two hours, and his city truck was at the site.
“Part of the issue is that on Tuesday morning, due to icy conditions, city workers were not required to be at work until 10 a.m.”
It is possible dispatch did not follow up with Willie because it may have been assumed the job was complete, the alarm was off, and Willie went home. He was not expected in to work until 10 a.m., so supervisors weren’t looking for Willie until then. His body was discovered at 9:45 a.m., just before the 10 a.m. late start.
However, this doesn’t explain why they were looking for Willie for two hours, as Trimyer says. WAVY’s Andy Fox asked her about that, and she told us she is looking into it, trying to figure out the accurate timeline of communications and is likely to change some security measures dealing with staff in field — especially during early morning hours.
For over 30 years, Willie Allen performed his duties with no issue, until Tuesday.
Regina said he never expressed any concern about fear on the job working the early morning hours. With tears still in her eyes, she said, “Now I’m stuck without a husband, with bills to be paid, and I don’t know what I am going to do… I need help and answers.”