Prosecutor, witness in social worker death, copes with guilt

AP News
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Posted: Aug 23, 2015 4:20 PM
Prosecutor, witness in social worker death, copes with guilt

BARRE, Vt. (AP) — The prosecutor is drawn time and again to the parking lot where flowers and candles now mark where he tried to save a social worker's life. Going back, he says, helps him cope with the guilt he feels because he lived and she didn't.

Scott Williams, who grabbed a rifle away from a woman police say was enraged over losing custody of her 9-year-old daughter, returns to where Lara Sobel died to struggle with his feelings, and to cry.

"I do that when there's nobody else around and I can just have a couple of minutes," he told The Associated Press.

Williams, a Vermont state's attorney, knew Sobel and her alleged killer, Jody Herring — a woman accused also in the deaths of three family members police believe she blamed for reporting her to social services.

He returns to the parking lot where Sobel died two weeks ago to cope with the emotions he can't shake — even though he knows he couldn't have done any more than he did.

"I feel really guilty that Lara's dead," he said.

Williams, a former public defender who served eight years in the Navy — in Central and South America in the 1980s — said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder three years ago. He worked through it with the help of counseling and now knows he must work through what happened outside the state office building in Barre on Aug. 7.

Williams had been getting physical therapy in a nearby building when he heard a gunshot and ran outside, where he saw Sobel on the ground. He said he took the rifle from Herring and disabled it.

"We were all within three feet of each other," he said.

Williams said he told two men nearby to grab Herring, then tended to Sobel, who had known professionally and from the synagogue their families attend.

After police arrived, he called Sobel's home only to find her two daughters were home alone. He called his wife and told her to go to them, then called Sobel's husband.

Williams also knows Herring from his work as a prosecutor. Police say Herring was upset about losing custody of her daughter when she shot Sobel, who worked for the Department for Children and Families, and three of her own relatives in their home hours earlier.

Herring's ex-boyfriend told police that she kept a handwritten "hit list," and said she had made comments about how "people are going to pay" regarding visitation rights for her daughter.

Herring has pleaded not guilty in Sobel's death. Her lawyer said she will plead not guilty when she is arraigned Tuesday in the shooting deaths of Regina Herring, 43; Rhonda Herring, 48; and their mother Julie Falzarano, 73. Police say Herring believed the three had reported her to DCF.

Williams said he talked to a group of DCF employees last week and told them he hoped that they will not work afraid but work aware. He worries about copycats.

Sobel's colleagues should be willing to ask for assistance from co-workers or postpone meetings if they think something isn't right, Williams said.

Though he is glad he's the one who came on the scene first because of his military background and experience with guns, Williams acknowledges he was lucky.

"This could have been a lot worse," he said. "If Jody had recognized me a little bit sooner."