By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — SALEM — An employee of a group home told police she thought a client was going to choke her to death.
It started just before 6 p.m. Monday at the Center for Life Management home at 8 Howard St. The female employee told police James Lavoie, 51, of Salem came into her office and started yelling at her. The woman told police Lavoie screamed that she had ruined his life.
Things quickly escalated. Lavoie put her in a headlock, applying pressure to restrict her breathing, the woman told police. She tried to break free and get out of the office, Lt. Robert Morin said, but Lavoie pulled her hair and tried to force the office door closed.
By then, another employee heard the commotion, ran to help and managed to free the woman from Lavoie’s grip.
The two staff members locked themselves in a bathroom and called for help.
When police arrived at the scene minutes before 6 p.m., the employees didn’t know whether Lavoie was still in the building, Morin said.
Officers searched, but came up empty. Officer Paul Benoit, his K-9 partner Til and Officer Michael Verrocchi started to track Lavoie. They didn’t have to go very far.
They found him nearby at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on N. Broadway, seated at a table, holding a buck knife, Morin said.
“Knife,” Verrocchi yelled out and pulled out his service revolver, Morin said. He ordered Lavoie to drop the knife and repeated the order several times, Morin said.
Benoit told Til, a German shepherd, to bark at Benoit. He, too, directed Lavoie to drop the weapon.
If he didn’t, Benoit warned, he would release his dog.
When Til started to bark, it distracted Lavoie just enough that Verrocchi was able to kick the knife out of the suspect’s hand, Morin said.
The officers handcuffed Lavoie and brought him to the station.
When detectives interviewed him there, Lavoie told them he intended to kill himself and “take someone with him,” Morin said.
He was charged with second-degree assault (strangulation), disorderly conduct, reckless conduct, placing another in danger and criminal threatening for use of a deadly weapon.
He is being held in the county jail.