DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Three people have been arrested in a murder-for-hire plot targeting a 60-year-old Army veteran so he wouldn't testify in a road rage case, according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.
WKMG-TV reports that deputies said Carlos Cruz-Echevarria was fatally shot Nov. 11 outside his home on Puritan Street in Deltona as he was trying to assist a motorist whose vehicle was stuck in a ditch.
That motorist, 24-year-old Benjamin Jaquaric Antonio Bascom, had been hired to kill Cruz-Echevarria and was conducting surveillance at his home when the stolen vehicle he was in got stuck and Cruz-Echevarria stopped to help, officials said.
Capt. Brian Henderson said getting the stolen vehicle stuck in the ditch was not part of the murder-for-hire plot.
"It just so happened that the kindheartedness of our victim, stopped to help and the stars aligned, unfortunately, and here he is trying to help them -- which was a stolen car, and they were prepared to burn the car -- and ultimately, (Bascom shoots) him as he’s bending down in the ditch to get this car out of the ditch, so he didn’t even see it coming,” Henderson said.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said Bascom had been hired by Kelsey Terrance McFoley, 28, to kill Cruz-Echevarria so he wouldn't testify against McFoley in connection with a road rage case.
McFoley's longtime girlfriend, 21-year-old Melissa Rios-Roque, was aware of the planned execution and was going to help Bascom leave the area when she learned that his vehicle was stuck in a ditch, officials said.
After Bascom shot Cruz-Echevarria, he stole his truck and got in a hit-and-run crash while fleeing the scene, according to a news release. The truck was later found burned in South Apopka.
Chitwood called the three suspects "a bunch of animals" and "human garbage."
"I've been a cop for 32 years, this is one of the most heinous, despicable, cowardly acts that I’ve ever witnessed, and it’s also probably one of the greatest police work that I’ve ever witnessed in my career,” Chitwood said.
He said Cruz-Echevarria was loved and respected in the community and his brother-in-law is a member of the Sheriff"s Office.
“Carlos did not deserve to die," Chitwood said. "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, cooperate with the system -- and his thanks is to end up with multiple bullets in his head, killed just outside of his home.”
In that road rage case, authorities said Cruz-Echevarria was stopped behind McFoley at a red light on May 2, 2017, and when the light turned green, McFoley didn't proceed forward, so Cruz-Echevarria honked his horn and passed him.
At the next intersection, McFoley pulled up next to Cruz-Echevarria and brandished a gun, asking if he had a problem, according to a news release. Cruz-Echevarria got McFoley's license plate number and reported the incident to police.
McFoley was arrested June 1, 2017, on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and improper exhibition of a firearm. Due to his previous criminal history, he was facing a lengthy prison sentence if convicted in the road-rage case, which was scheduled to go to trial Dec. 7.
The road rage case was ultimately dropped after Cruz-Echevarria's death.
Henderson said McFoley called Bascom and asked him to kill Cruz-Echevarria to prevent him from testifying because Bascom had a reputation as a killer.
While physical evidence in the stolen vehicle left abandoned in the ditch helped authorities quickly identify Bascom as a suspect in the case, it was electronic evidence from that phone call that helped detectives link Bascom to McFoley and Rios-Roque, according to a news release.
Deputies said Bascom was arrested Wednesday at Orlando International Airport before he could board a plane for a one-way flight to Texas. McFoley was arrested Tuesday while working for a moving company in Orlando. Rios-Roque was arrested Tuesday on Interstate 4 in Volusia County.
Henderson said they have not been cooperating with investigators since their arrests.
Authorities said Thursday that the investigation is far from over and they will likely continue to collect evidence up until the three suspects go to trial. Chitwood said they could possibly face the death penalty.
All three are facing first-degree murder charges.