By: Richard L. Smith
An unsettled and reportedly unchecked worksite dispute between a supervisor and his former colleague is what several sources say are some of the circumstances behind a deadly shooting at a PSE&G worksite earlier in the week.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, along with Franklin Township Police, continue to investigate these circumstances and possibly others that led to the homicide shooting of Mr. Russell Heller and the suspect Mr. Curtis yesterday in Franklin Township (Somerset County).
Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office investigators have confirmed that Mr. Heller was a Republican councilman for Milford Borough (Hunterdon County).
Friends of the suspect, who is a native Newark resident Mr. Gary Curtis, told RLS Media that Curtis was let go from the PSE&G job due to job performance circumstances brought on by the alleged and consistent worksite dispute at PSEG.
Prosecutor McDonald said the incident unfolded on Wednesday, February 8, at approximately 7:02 a.m.
According to a statement released by Prosecutor McDonald, Franklin Township Police responded to multiple 9-1-1 calls reporting a shooting victim within the parking lot of PSEG on Weston Canal Road.
When cops arrived, Prosecutor McDonald said they encountered a deceased adult male suffering from a gunshot wound.
Emergency Medical Personnel from an area Trauma Center responded to the scene, where they pronounced the male.
Police immediately learned that active PSE&G employee Heller, 51, of Milford, was the victim.
Officials confirmed that Heller was a sitting city Republican councilman in the Hunterdon County town.
The councilman's violent and deadly attack set off a frenzy of speculation by local news outlets and others on social media platforms because Heller was the second councilperson, in less than a month, shot dead while in or around their vehicles.
In the other incident, Prosecutor McDonald said on February 1, 2023, at approximately 7:22 p.m., authorities received a 911 call reporting shots fired in the area of Samuel Circle in the Parlin section of Sayreville.
Sayreville Police Department officers responded to the scene and located town Republican councilwoman Ms. Eunice Dwumfour, 30, of Sayreville, in her vehicle, suffering multiple gunshot wounds. Dwumfour died at the scene.
As of Tuesday, February 7, Prosecutor McDonald told the media there are currently no updates to report and that the matter is still under investigation. Investigators said they have no evidence that Dwumfour’s murder was connected to her role as a Sayreville councilwoman.
“There will be no press conference held, and because the investigation is still active and ongoing, we are declining to comment on all matters at this time,” Prosecutor McDonald said.
While investigating the PSE&G shooting, Prosecutor McDonald said detectives confirmed that a former employee of PSEG, Mr. Gary T. Curtis, 58, of Washington, New Jersey, approached Mr. Heller armed with a gun in the parking lot, then fired at him multiple times.
Prosecutor McDonald said at approximately 10:20 a.m., detectives assigned to the investigation were able to track Mr. Curtis to a parking lot area in Bridgewater Township.
With the assistance of Bridgewater Township Police Officers, authorities approached the vehicle Mr. Curtis was operating and observed him suffering from a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Prosecutor McDonald said Mr. Curtis was in possession of a firearm.
On Thursday, The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office released the following statement:
The investigation has revealed that the shooting of Mr. Heller was not politically connected with his elected office or political affiliation.”-Prosecutor McDonald
Preliminary investigation has revealed that the shooting was an isolated incident and Mr. Heller was the intended target.
RLS Media learned that Curtis was a retired Master Mechanic at Ford and began working at PSE&G shortly after leaving the motor company. Officials at Ford did not return emails seeking information about Curtis' role at the company and the date he left the job.
According to those who knew Mr. Curtis in his former Newark West Ward Vailsburg section neighborhood they said before being dismissed from his job at PSE&G, Curtis expressed being constantly harassed and unfairly treated by management.
Sources in the Vailsburg neighborhood told RLS Media that -at one time- Curtis and Heller were both supervisors and forced to compete with each other before PSE&G fired Curtis for an unspecified reason.
“Some of the employees, like the field tech guys, are very territorial, which results in insensitive comments, harassment and instances of prejudice when being sent to certain jobs,” an employee speaking anonymously with RLS Media said.
The employee would not confirm if he observed Curtis or Heller engage in verbal conflict.
"Curtis had issues with gaining respect from upper management, especially when he asked some of his workers to do things and/or reprimanded them for company violations. The workers would complain about Curtis made it hard to do his job", the source told RLS Media.
The source said Curtis’ bonus was blocked and he was reprimanded for being insensitive to his staff.
"PSE&G has done very little to break down the systematic culture of the groups, resulting in the technicians acting territorial and beginning cycles of harassment within the department. We just learn to deal with it if you are not in their circle", according to the employee.
Due to the active and ongoing investigation, PSE&G would not comment on the allegations.
The company did release the following statement:
"This event is tragic and disturbing, and we are offering support to our employees as they process this," PSE&G said in a statement.
Curtis attended the defunct Irvington Technical School and transferred over to Vailsburg High School -also now defunct-where he played basketball, some of his close friends told RLS Media.
His friends would not confirm if Curtis was engaged in other financial or domestic issues that may have also prompted the awful deadly encounter.