DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Last Veterans Day, a 60-year-old U.S. Army veteran stopped near his home in central Florida to help what he thought was a stranded motorist. Carlos Cruz-Echevarria was shot multiple times along a Daytona Beach road that night and his truck was found burned miles away.
Volusia County investigators initially thought the slaying was random, that Cruz-Echevarria had been robbed while being a good Samaritan. But the driver turned out to be a hit man who'd been hired to keep him from testifying about a road rage confrontation six months earlier, investigators told news outlets.
Sheriff's officials arrested three suspects in the killing this week and charged each with first-degree murder.
"I've been a cop for 32 years, and this is one of the most heinous, despicable, cowardly acts that I've ever witnessed," Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said during a news conference Thursday. "You've got a pack of animals, (who) once again illustrate that human life is cheap on the street. A road rage incident where a man does what he's supposed to do, notify the police (and) cooperate with the system. His thanks is to wind up with multiple bullets in his head."
Back in May 2017, Cruz-Echevarria was driving near Deltona when he honked at another vehicle that didn't move when the light turned green, officials said. An accident report says Kelsey Terrance McFoley, 28, was driving that vehicle. Cruz-Echevarria passed the vehicle, but McFoley caught up with him at another intersection. The two drivers got out of their vehicles and McFoley pulled a gun.
According to deputies, Cruz-Echevarria wrote down McFoley's tag number and identified him in a photo lineup. McFoley was arrested June 1, 2017. Because he has a long record, including 29 felony charges, officials said McFoley could have faced a severe prison sentence if convicted in the road rage case.
McFoley had found Cruz-Echevarria's home address listed on a court document about a deposition he was scheduled to give on Dec. 7, and hired Benjamin Bascom, 24, to kill Cruz-Echevarria to keep him from testifying, investigators said. Bascom had been staking out the house for several weeks, investigators said.
On Nov. 11, Bascom went to the home but Cruz-Echevarria's wasn't there, so he waited in the neighborhood, investigators said. As Bascom turned his vehicle around, it got stuck in a ditch. That's when a truck pulled up. Inside was Cruz-Echevarria.
As Cruz-Echevarria bent over to get a better look at the car, Bascom shot him in the head, Volusia County Sheriff's Capt. Brian Henderson said.
As the slaying investigation continued unsolved, the road rage charges against McFoley were dropped.
Then DNA found in the vehicles led investigators to Bascom and the bizarre tale unraveled.
Phone records tied Bascom to the stranded vehicle and Cruz-Echevarria's truck, deputies said. Those same phone records linked Bascom to McFoley. Authorities said McFoley's girlfriend, Melissa Rios Roque, 21, assisted in the plot.
Bascom was arrested Wednesday at Orlando International Airport, carrying a one-way ticket to Texas. McFoley was arrested Tuesday by U.S. Marshals in Orlando and Roque was stopped by Volusia County deputies on Interstate 4. No attorneys were listed on the suspects' court records.
This story has corrected the spelling of the girlfriend's last name to Roque, not Rogue.