FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) –The co-founder of a diabetics supply company, Specialty Medical Supplies, says he is being held hostage just outside Beijing China.
Forty-two-year-old Chip Starnes who lives in Parkland with his wife and three kids travelled to China last week to close down the plastics division of a manufacturing plant he opened ten years ago.
When he went to leave, he says about 80 workers blocked all the entries and exits, demanding they be given severance packages similar to the ones doled out to the laid off workers in the ‘plastics’ division that closed.
His wife, Cecily, said she has been able to speak to her husband twice a day and is trying to stay strong for him and their three kids.
“You feel so helpless when you’re so far away,” Cecily told CBS 4’s Carey Codd.
She said her husband has traveled to China often and never encountered a problem.
“He has never once felt unsafe over there,” Cecily said. “I never thought it would come to this.”
His brother John told CBS 4 News that Chip informed him that workers are taking shifts watching Starnes 24 hours a day and that he was deprived of food and sleep when workers banged on his windows and shined lights in his office.
John said Chip sent him a video showing what happened when Chip tried to leave the factory over the weekend.
“(He said) I’m followed by 50 or 30 or 80 people or so and they blockade the front gates so I cannot leave,” John Starnes said.
Les Capella who co-founded the company with Starnes says he has been in contact with Starnes since the ordeal began five days ago.
“He was in that office for 24 hours without food or water. That was the scariest,” he says.
Since then Capella says Starnes has been given a cot and is getting regular meals, but he can’t leave the factory.
Capella thinks the remaining workers may have gotten scared because of the other layoffs.
“We figure maybe they got afraid, saw one division closing and that they’d take advantage with Chip being there and collect.”
Starnes can’t leave. Police are outside the gate and workers are inside.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has sent a representative but there is no resolution.
“This type of situation in China you almost have to let it play out, you can’t force it,” says Capella.
CBS 4 spoke by phone with John Starnes, a brother who lives in Jupiter, Florida.
John Starnes says he has spoken with his brother over the phone.
Their family is anxious for a resolution and said the U.S. Embassy is working to help defuse the situation.
“Right now we are doing as well as can be expected,” John said. “Lots of sleepless nights, lots of emotions. We are doing what we can to support one another.”
His wife said she is focused on praying for her husband and maintaining order for her three children.
“Later at night when they’re in bed that’s when you can become emotional,” she said.