When Carlos Cruz-Echevarria was found dead along the side of a Deltona road in November, Volusia County detectives believed he was a good Samaritan, randomly shot as he tried helping a stranded driver.
An investigation soon revealed that the story went much deeper. The stranded driver whom Cruz-Echevarria, 60, tried helping was actually a hitman hired to kill him, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.
On Thursday, the sheriff announced the arrests of three people suspected of Cruz-Echevarria’s killing. Investigators say the Army veteran was targeted and executed to prevent him from testifying in a road-rage case.
“I’ve been a cop for 32 years,” Chitwood said during a news conference Thursday. “This is one of the most heinous, despicable, cowardly acts I’ve ever witnessed.”
Cruz-Echevarria was found shot multiple times in the head near a disabled, stolen car that was stuck in the grass near Malaga Avenue and Puritan Street on Nov. 11, 2017. His truck was stolen and later found burned in Apopka, sheriff’s spokesman Andrew Gant said.
The seemingly random slaying left his family reeling. They described him as a gentle animal lover who raised exotic birds. He made life “so much more rich and beautiful just for being himself,” his niece wrote in a statement shortly after his death.
Officials say the series of events that led to Cruz-Echevarria’s death began May 2, 2017. He was driving in Deltona when he honked at a vehicle that was stopped at a green light.
Deputies say the driver of the other car, Kelsey Terrance McFoley, 28, pulled up next to Cruz-Echevarria at another intersection. McFoley pulled out a gun and asked Cruz-Echevarria if he had a problem, authorities said.
Cruz-Echevarria was able to write down McFoley’s tag number. By the end of the month, investigators identified McFoley as a suspect in the road-rage case. He was arrested June 1, 2017.
McFoley, a convicted felon with more than two dozen previous charges, knew he would have faced a severe prison sentence had he been convicted of the crime, Capt. Brian Henderson said.
He said McFoley was willing to do anything to avoid prison.
On Oct. 23 — about three weeks before Cruz-Echevarria’s death, McFoley’s attorney filed a court notice indicating Cruz-Echevarria was set to testify against McFoley in December, authorities said. It included Cruz-Echevarria’s home address.
Henderson said McFoley hired Benjamin Bascom, 24, to kill Cruz-Echevarria. Bascom went to Cruz-Echevarria’s house Nov. 11, but he wasn’t there. Bascom drove around the neighborhood, waiting for Cruz-Echevarria to arrive, investigators said.
“They were actually stalking the victim,” Henderson said. “They were there to murder him.”
While turning around in the street, Bascom accidentally got his car stuck in a ditch. A driver pulled up behind Bascom and offered to help.
It was Cruz-Echevarria.
Henderson said Cruz-Echevarria bent over to get a better look at the car. Then Bascom shot him in the head several times.
The killing went unsolved for months, and the charges against McFoley in the road-rage case were eventually dropped.
But DNA evidence linked Bascom to both vehicles, while phone records tied him to the scene of the murder and the area where Cruz-Echevarria’s truck was found, deputies said. The records also indicated that McFoley spoke with Bascom on the phone and gave him instructions on how to carry out the murder, authorities said.
On Tuesday, McFoley and his girlfriend, Melissa Rios Roque — whom officials say conspired with McFoley and Bascom to commit the murder — were arrested. McFoley was captured by U.S. Marshals in Orlando. Roque was arrested by Volusia County detectives on Interstate 4.
The next day, Orlando police officers captured Bascom at Orlando International Airport, where he was about to board a plane to Texas.
All three suspects face charges of first-degree murder.
Michael Williams can be reached at email@example.com, 407-420-5022 or @michaeldamianw.
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