DADE CITY, Fla. (AP) — An inexperienced health care caseworker who visited a client at his home knew there was something that made her “very uncomfortable” about the 53-year-old man, even writing in his file that two people should visit him in the future.
Yet 25-year-old Stephanie Ross went alone to Lucious Smith’s apartment Monday morning, and police said the ex-con with a history of violence inexplicably chased her down the street, stabbing her to death with a butcher knife.
Ms. Ross‘ death underscored the dangers of in-home visits by social workers and health care professionals. Some states have added safeguards to prevent attacks, such as pairing them up with another worker for home visits or assigning a police escort, but the additional measures are sometimes too costly for states and private companies.
“It may be if the risk is too high you don’t send two people out, you ask the client to come in or meet in a different place or postpone the visit,” said Tracy Whitaker of the National Association of Social Workers. “Unfortunately, the money gets found after there’s a tragedy.”
Mr. Smith was being held without bail at the Pasco County jail on a first-degree murder charge. It is unclear whether he has an attorney.
Ms. Ross became a service coordinator for Maryland-based Integra Health Management in September and wanted to help people with chronic illnesses, the company said in a statement. She had been on the job for about a month when she first visited Mr. Smith in Dade City, a small city about 30 miles north of Tampa.
Afterward, Ms. Ross wrote about being “very uncomfortable” with Mr. Smith, according to Dade City police Officer Brian Uppercue, who said authorities reviewed the file. It’s not clear why Ms. Ross went there by herself Monday or what Mr. Smith’s illness was.
Mr. Smith is well known to police. Authorities have received “50 or 60 calls” about him since 2006, ranging from trespassing to battery to drunken, disorderly behavior, Officer Uppercue said. Neighbors said he argued with nearly everyone around him and was banned from a nearby convenience store.
“She faced a real danger dealing with this man,” Officer Uppercue said. “He was a disagreeable guy.”
He served seven years in prison for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and was released in 2005. Mr. Smith lived in an apartment complex with other people who had disabilities, said Victoria Farkus, 40, who lives across the street.
Ms. Farkus and her niece were home Monday when they heard someone screaming, “Help me, help me, help me!” Ms. Farkus said she initially thought her Chihuahua had bitten someone, but she looked out her window and saw Mr. Smith chasing Ms. Ross.
“I’m still shook up,” said Ms. Farkus, giving an uneasy glance at Mr. Smith’s apartment building. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get that out of my head.”
Mr. Smith just sat outside his apartment after the stabbing, she said, and a few minutes later, police arrived.
“We knew right away that he was involved,” Officer Uppercue said.