A Pennsylvania couple is suing the family of murder victim Timothy “Asti” Davison, of Poland, after Davison’s family refused to pay $52,000 in reward money for a tip that identified Davison’s alleged killer.
Davison, 28, was run off the road and shot to death on Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania in January 2014. The murder puzzled investigators for more than a year, until Jamie and Courtney Breese called police to say they believed an acquaintance who had threatened them at a nearby bar the night of the shooting was responsible.
Davison’s mother had offered the reward for information leading to an arrest of their son’s killer, but said the tipsters waited too long to speak up, and their delay caused the death of another person.
“(It’s) really unfortunate those people didn’t come forward when they should have,” Davison’s mother, Theresa Allocca, said in September 2015 when police charged John Wayne Strawser Jr. with Davison’s murder. “It just doesn’t feel right.”
Allocca’s reasoning may not be enough to protect her from liability, according to Richard Carter, an attorney who has spent 38 years advising Crime Stoppers USA, the group that works with law enforcement to offer standardized rewards for information.
Similar cases of aggrieved tipsters suing victims’ families are common throughout the country, said Carter, who is also a retired Texas judge. He estimated that when families put up extra money beyond the standard $1,000 that Crime Stoppers typically offers, about half the cases end in a dispute.
“The law of contract does not allow people to change the offer after someone has already performed, nor does it allow someone to create, without communicating, secret terms,” Carter said. “It’s unfortunate, but people act out of hurt and out of lack of knowledge, and they make these mistakes of offering these supplemental rewards.”
The suit, filed Feb. 12 in Franklin County Court in Pennsylvania, accuses Allocca of breach of contract for refusing to pay the Breeses after she publicized the reward on Facebook and in news conferences.
Allocca declined to comment Friday, instead referring a reporter to a post she wrote Thursday on a Facebook memorial page for her son.
“I hadn’t planned on posting anything until the trial,” Allocca said in the post. “However, after recent events I need to make a few things clear. The reward offer is suspended. Any monies not rewarded have been earmarked for a scholarship fund in Asti’s honor. Until the trial is complete, we are unable to discuss the case and any/all parties who will receive reward money.”
Davison was returning from visiting family in Florida and was en route to Maine when someone ran him off the road and fatally shot him as he drove north and entered Pennsylvania. Police released a description of the suspected killer’s truck, a dark blue Ford Ranger, and hundreds of tips poured in.
After months of little progress toward an arrest, Allocca raised money from family, friends and the public to offer the $52,000 reward, going on local television and posting on Facebook to elicit more information from the public.
In April 2015, the Breeses came forward with a tip about Strawser’s possible connection.
Courtney Breese had known Stawser from childhood, but when he reconnected with her on Facebook a few years ago, he became unstable and obsessed with her, the Breeses’ attorney, Adam Greivell, said.
The Breeses told police that on the night of Jan. 4, 2014, shortly before Davison was shot, Strawser threatened them while they were at a bar. The Breeses left and headed north on I-81 in a silver Honda Pilot, which looks similar to the Mitsubishi Montero that Davison was driving.
“Breese believed that Strawser was hunting him and his wife the night Davison was killed,” according to a court affidavit filed in support of Strawser’s murder charge.
Cellphone tower information showed that Strawser was near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border three minutes before Davison called 911 to report that another driver was shooting at him. After the first call was dropped, he called again, telling dispatchers that a pickup rammed his car, running him off the road and into the grassy median.
After hearing about Davison’s murder, the Breeses considered Strawser might be involved, but didn’t believe he was capable of murder, Greivell said.
“(They thought) he’s a bit of a loose cannon,” Greivell said. “He was the kind of guy who ran his mouth.”
It was not until the Breeses learned in April 2015 that Strawser was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Amy Lou Buckingham, in Preston County, West Virginia, that the couple reconsidered calling police about Davison’s killing.
Questioned by police about whether he was involved in Davison’s killing, Strawser said, “I don’t remember,” according to court papers.
Strawser initially told police he had been at his job hauling coal, but his employer said he didn’t work that night.
When he was arrested for Buckingham’s murder, investigators found a Rossi Ranch Hand pistol and .44-caliber shell casings hidden in a box in a field. They say the weapon belonged to Strawser and was used in both shootings.
Greivell said the Breeses continue to cooperate with authorities, and sought legal action only after Allocca refused to respond to them about the reward.
The Breeses did receive a $10,000 reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information in Davison’s death.
Greivell rebuffed the idea that his clients are greedy for seeking the reward money. Courtney Breese works two jobs in the medical field, Jamie Breese works for a sports retailer and the Breeses “don’t live the high life.”
“There is absolutely principle involved,” Greivell said. “These people provided the only one tip that made a difference,” adding later that “money, obviously, has something to do” with their decision to sue.