published Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Trial closes in Chattanooga boss-slashing case

Lonnie Savage waits in the courtroom as members of the jury are selected for his trial in Chattanooga. Savage was on trial for attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault.
Lonnie Savage waits in the courtroom as members of the jury are selected for his trial in Chattanooga. Savage was on trial for attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault.
Photo by Allison Carter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Jurors must decide today if a 62-year-old man planned to attack his boss with a box cutter, cutting him nine times, or if he simply lost control and reacted to months of mounting work and personal stress.

Lonnie Savage’s attorney, Lloyd Levitt, has always admitted his client cut his boss Tommy Sims at the ADM Southern Cellulose Products Co. on July 10, 2009. But he argued as the trial closed Tuesday that Savage didn’t plan the act and had “lost control” after compounding personal and professional problems became too much.

“Here’s a person swinging so wildly that he slashes his own arm,” Levitt said. “Is this someone who’s really thinking clearly?”

Assistant District Attorney Brett Alexander meticulously reviewed events that led to the July attack — Savage’s fear of losing his job, the night Savage followed a co-worker home after a heated argument and telling co-workers the day before the attack that he wasn’t going to do an assigned job again.

After Sims assigned Savage to a job he didn’t want to do at the factory, Savage repeatedly asked his boss to reconsider. When Sims didn’t relent and instead told Savage to “clock out and go home,” Savage pulled a box cutter from his pocket and slashed Sims on the chest, arm, back and wrist, according to trial testimony.

Savage was later arrested and charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault. If convicted, he faces a possible 15- to 25-year prison term.

For most of Tuesday morning, Levitt, Alexander and Assistant District Attorney David Schmidt questioned examinations of two expert witnesses — Drs. Malcolm Spica and Keith Caruso.

Spica performed IQ and psychological tests on Savage in May. Caruso interviewed Savage for four hours in December 2010.

Both agreed that Savage’s IQ score, 77, was below average but not below 70, which signals intense mental impairment. Each found he had depression. That, combined with family troubles, work stress and running out of his medication, put Savage in a state of mind that worried his co-workers for months leading up to the attack, Levitt said.

Caruso testified that a cumulative effect of stresses could have created paranoia in Savage.

“I think the perception that he was losing his job when he was told to check out and go home was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

Alexander and Schmidt each questioned the experts’ testing methods, hourly pay for their work on behalf of criminal defense attorneys and that they interviewed only Savage or his wife and none of the others involved.

Contact staff writer Todd South at or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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Haiku said...

This man seems to have been working in a terribly hostile work environment which tipped him over the edge. It's these type hostile work environment that led to many going postal at post offices years ago. The U.S. Postal Service stepped up to the plate and addressed the problem. Many of those working for the postal service were military veterans too, and Vietnam Vets. The private sector has yet to do so other than just putting something on paper and creating a Human Resource dept. they send you to when you complain. Since Human Resource Dept. are usually made up of friends, family members and neighbors who don't usually help.

It's sad Mr. Savage served his country and even fought and could have died in Vietnam, only to be mistreated in such a manner by individuals not likely even born during his time of service in Vietnam and the military.

June 8, 2011 at 2:25 p.m.
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