Pennsylvania authorities say they have solved the murder of a Maine man 20 months ago, describing it as a case of mistaken identity spurred by a fit of jealous rage.
Police have charged John Wayne Strawser Jr. with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Timothy “Asti” Davison, 28, of Poland on Jan. 4, 2014, in Pennsylvania’s Franklin County. Strawser was already in jail on another murder charge.
Davison’s family said the news brought a mixture of relief, sadness and frustration.
“Obviously, there’s a sense of relief that they got the guy and he’s not going to hurt anyone else, but sadness at why are we even going through this. Parents aren’t supposed to go through this,” said Theresa Allocca, Davison’s mother. “There’s also a little bit of anger and frustration that no one came forward until another person had to die.”
Prosecutors say Strawser’s DNA matches that taken from shell casings found at the scene of Davison’s murder.
Strawser’s pickup truck also matches the description of one shown in video from a highway department traffic camera at the scene of the shooting on Interstate 81, and matches evidence collected at the scene. The truck had been repainted and had new parts added, according to a statement from the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office.
Police got their break in the case when Jamie Breese contacted them on April 20, 2015, and said that the night of Davison’s shooting in January 2014, Strawser had threatened Breese and his wife. The pair had left a bar and headed north on Interstate 81 in a silver Honda Pilot, which looked similar to Davison’s Mitsubishi Montero.
Davison was run off the road and shot at about the same time Breese and his wife were driving on that same stretch of road.
“Breese believed that Strawser was hunting him and his wife the night Davison was killed,” according to a court affidavit filed in the case. Breese said Strawser would sometimes “get in rages,” the affidavit said.
Strawser, who is from West Virginia, used to have a relationship with Breese’s wife and had stalked her, and Breese had been told that Strawser would kill Breese to get to his wife.
Cellphone tower information showed Strawser was near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border three minutes before Davison called 911.
Police later recovered a Rossi Ranch Hand pistol and .44-caliber shell casings they believe belonged to Strawser and that were used in the shooting, hidden in a box in a field. A friend of Strawser led police to them after a shooting in April in which Strawser was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Amy Lou Buckingham, in Preston County, West Virginia.
Breese said that the day after Davison was killed, he told his wife that Strawser might have done it, but she dismissed the idea. He came forward after learning that Strawser had been charged in Buckingham’s fatal shooting on April 16, 2015.
Police continued to compile evidence after that initial tip until the announcement Monday that Strawser had been charged in Davison’s murder.
Questioned by police about whether he was involved in Davison’s killing, Strawser said, “I don’t remember,” according to the court papers. Strawser initially told police he had been at his job hauling coal, but his employer said he did not work that night.
Four days after Davison’s death, Strawser posted on his Facebook page: “Looks as if my world is going 2 crumble,” but did not elaborate.
A police official in West Virginia said Strawser’s criminal record was confidential under that state’s laws.
NOT A ROAD RAGE CASE AFTER ALL
Davison was run off the road, then fatally shot at 2:10 a.m. as he was driving home to Maine after visiting family in Florida.
Police said the sound of an engine revving, gunshots and tires squealing as a vehicle sped away could be heard in a recording of Davison’s 911 call. Davison was shot in the left hand, right leg and the head.
Described by family and friends as a fun-loving, affectionate and hardworking young man, Davison was pronounced dead a short while later at a nearby hospital.
A Facebook page created by Davison’s friends and family titled “Justice for Asti Davison” posted a comment about 6:30 a.m. Monday that read: “Good news! The Pennsylvania State Police have identified the killer. … Rest easy that the killer is off the streets.”
The post went on to say, “Thank you all for your continued support and perseverance in not giving up. Our entire family thanks you!”
Allocca, Davison’s mother, said Monday that the family was notified about the pending charges Friday and knew that investigators had been making progress.
The family had created a website soliciting tips and received hundreds in the 20 months since Davison was killed. Recently, some of those tips included Strawser’s name.
The case caught people’s attention because it appeared to be the kind of violent crime that could happen to anyone, she said.
Allocca said the conclusion that the shooting was a case of mistaken identity shows that her son did not do something to provoke road rage, as had been speculated in the days immediately after the killing.
Davison’s family and many friends probably will attend Strawser’s trial, Allocca said. However, that is not likely to take place for at least a year while Strawser faces charges in the West Virginia shooting, she said.
911 CALL ‘DROPPED’ DURING ATTACK
Allocca said that even though she was at times frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation, she appreciates that the lead detectives on the case – identified by the district attorney as troopers Jason Cachara and David Ruch – persevered to make an arrest and to build a strong case.
“It was very time-consuming, but we never gave up hope,” she said. “We knew the evidence would lead to the right person.”
Soon after the shooting, police released video from the traffic camera showing Interstate 81 after Davison’s vehicle was run off the road. The video shows a grainy image of the pickup truck pulling over near Davison’s car, which is stuck in the median, “just moments before the fatal shots were fired,” police said.
Davison made two 911 calls, first to report that another driver was shooting at him. After the first call was dropped, he called again, telling dispatchers that the pickup rammed his car, running him off the road and into the grassy median.
He describes being shot at as he drove almost 15 miles, from Maryland into Pennsylvania.
Allocca was upset that her son’s 911 call was dropped at a critical time, which meant he might have slowed down, allowing Strawser to run him off the road. She plans to keep working to get cellphone tower upgrades in that area to improve emergency communications, she said.
Davison’s family and Crime Stoppers USA had offered a reward for information leading to the capture of his killer.
Allocca said Crime Stoppers USA will determine how much if any of the reward is to be paid out.