NewsHillsborough County


Florida engineer, business partner narrowly escape an assassination attempt in Haiti

Posted at 9:54 PM, Feb 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-05 23:48:58-05

The co-founder of a biowaste company, McKinnley Workman, tells ABC Action News a mob of 20-30 armed bandits ambushed her and her business partner as they got out of their truck to unlock the gate of their headquarters.

McKinnley said her business partner Sebastien Benoit was pelted with rocks and at one point knocked unconscious. The gang of men wavied guns in the air screaming that their company vehicle “is now theirs and they are in charge of the community.”

Workman said they were surrounded by the men who were trying to drag Benoit into a field. During the attack, Benoit and Workman sustained “serious cuts, bruises, severe head trauma, and even a large human bite wound.”

After tasing the attacker he fell on the ground, but I must not have hit him cleanly because he didn’t stay down long. He came after us again, and I threw the discharged taser at him. As I was dragging Sebastien back to the truck, I grabbed my phone and was again shouting that we were U.S. citizens. I yelled the Creole equivalent of “Everyone will know what you’ve done and will be watching you!”
Lakay Vèt news release

Local farmers and neighbors came to help Benoit and Workman during the attack. Workman said all are still in hiding for fear of retaliation for helping the workers escape what they felt was certain death.

Workman and Benoit are both graduates of the University of Central Florida. In 2017, they teamed up to form a biowaste company to try and help solve Haiti’s agricultural and environmental problems.

In the days leading up to the attack, Workman said the bandits were terrorizing the company and local farmers. The motive behind the attack, according to Workman, is to keep “foreigners” out of their country. The private business turns waste into fertilizer and fuel for farmers to be more sustainable, energy efficient, and eco-friendly; recycling 9,000 tons of plastic and metals.

The company and the property are still being held and controlled by the gang. We can still see the smoke from our burning infrastructure walls. It’s been a week since the bandits started spewing threats, and still the community is terrified. They’re afraid that their beautiful farming community and all of the opportunity that Lakay Vèt brought to it will become just another territory for bandits. Terrified for their safety and that of their families, the farmers are afraid to return to the farmland or to Lakay Vèt. Some of them won't even go back to their own homes for fear of being shot. Our allies in the community took a big risk in helping us.
Lakay Vèt news release

The attack took place on Jan. 29 outside their company headquarters in Croix-des-Bouquets, port of the Port-Au-Prince metropolitan area.

Workman said they'd asked the Haitian government for help, but the group continues to occupy and destroy their property burning some structures to the ground.

Workman said the attack was motivated by money. She said the men want the company to pay bribes for operating the facility on “their turf.”

All of the company assets have been stolen, much of the facility destroyed, according to Workman. Drone video provided to ABC Action News by the company show buildings engulfed in flames with black smoke billowing into the sky.

Workman said luck and help from locals saved their lives.