A small debt may have led to the killing of a Pontiac man Thursday at General Motors' Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told the Free Press.
Gregory Lanier Robertson, 49, died of multiple blunt force injuries, the Oakland County Medical Examiner's office said late Thursday.
In an interview Friday, Bouchard declined to give specifics but said no weapons were brought into the plant. Instead, something "from the environment" was used as a weapon, he said. “He was brutally, brutally killed," Bouchard said.
Robertson worked as a cleaner at the plant for seven months, employed as a temporary worker "hired by another third party," GM plant spokesman Tom Wickham told the Free Press.
Authorities charged a 48-year-old man with open murder Friday, according to a news release from the Oakland County Sheriff's Department. The suspect, who faces life in prison if convicted, is scheduled to be arraigned Saturday.
The suspect, a male coworker of Robertson, is in custody at Oakland County Jail, Sheriff's Communications Officer Steve Huber said.
Bouchard said the men were part of a cleaning crew whose job it was to pick up extra pallets around the plant and clean up other debris so it was ready for production in the morning.
Meanwhile, GM restarted production at about 6 a.m. Friday at Orion, where it builds the Chevrolet Bolt and Chevrolet Bolt EUV. But the slaying has left the plant's 1,200 workers to process the fact that they are returning to a crime scene.
"Leaders conducted face-to-face employee meetings to talk about the incident and share what employee services are available for them," Wickham told the Free Press in a text. "Production restarted, but employees will have opportunities to meet with counselors throughout the day."
Wickham declined to characterize the mood of the workforce, saying "everyone processes a tragedy differently. We're running, but the priority is the well-being of the team."
Seeking a motive
Sheriff's detectives are still piecing together the motive but Bouchard said it was likely due to Robertson owing a coworker about $60.
"We believe it was related to an owed debt," Bouchard said. "The animosity of the individual who felt he was owed the money was the major source of friction at the moment.”
Robertson's family has started a GoFundMe page seeking help to pay for funeral expenses. The page said that he did not have a benefits package. It has since raised about $4,000.
Huber said the fight between Robertson and his coworker started in the early morning hours Thursday. Deputies arrived at 1:37 a.m. to find Robertson "unconscious and bleeding." CPR was performed but deputies could not revive him. He was pronounced dead at the scene, Huber said.
Deputies found the coworker, who was arrested in a dock area not far from Robertson's body.
"The item used in the slaying was recovered," Huber said Thursday in a news release.
Bouchard said there were not a lot of people working in that area of the plant, so there may not be a lot of witnesses.
A big family's loss
Robertson had 11 siblings, a wife, children and grandchildren, according to a Fox 2 report.
Robertson's wife, Collette Chalea Robertson, posted her husband's death on social media Thursday and attached a GoFundMe page writing: "Gregory Robertson my husband needs all the help we can get to lay him to rest please help any body that knows my husband knows he would give the shirt off his back thanks in advance."
Dozens of condolence comments followed the post.
Collette Robertson did not immediately respond to a request for comment via social media.
Bouchard said violence is unusual at a car factory. GM does have 24-hour security.
“The average business won’t see this," Bouchard said. “But that doesn’t diminish the tragedy of it and we do see it. One of the last times we had something like this at a car factory (in Oakland County) was Ford Wixom.”
In 1996, the media reported that Gerald Michael Atkins, then 29, was arrested after dressing "like Rambo″ and using an AK-47 to shoot his way into a Ford plant in Wixom. A manager was killed and others were wounded.
Bouchard said authorities do not believe there is any follow-up danger to anyone at the Orion plant.
“This was an isolated and personal attack,” Bouchard said. “And we have the suspect in custody.”
This story was edited for clarity after publishing.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Deadly fight between cleaning crew at GM's Orion Assembly: New details