How Mistaken Identity Led To 28-Year-Old's Murder On US Highway

Timothy Davison, 28, was heading back to Maine after two weeks visiting relatives in Florida when a strange car began following him.

How Mistaken Identity Led To 28-Year-Old's Murder On US Highway

Timothy Davison was shot dead by a man who mistook him for someone else because of his car.

Timothy Davison begged the cops to hurry up.

It was around 2 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2014, and the 28-year-old, known as "Asti" to friends and family, was heading back to Maine after two weeks visiting relatives in Florida. He had followed his grandfather's suggestion to take Interstate 81 through the Appalachian Mountains instead of getting bogged down in city traffic on Interstate 95. Aside from the fact that his feet were getting cold - he had texted his mother in Virginia that he was wearing Crocs sandals to stay in vacation mode - the trip had been going well. Then, driving through Maryland, he noticed the blue Ford Ranger pickup following him.

Davison sped up, trying to shake the strange car. But the driver chased after him, firing gunshots at his silver Mitsubishi SUV. Dialing 911 as he barreled down the highway at over 100 mph, Davison told a dispatcher that he had no idea who was pursuing him, or why. Then he crossed the Pennsylvania state line, and the call dropped.

Moments later, the truck ran him off the road. When Davison managed to get through to 911 again, he told police that the Ford Ranger had rammed into his car, pushing it into the snow-blanketed median. A dispatcher assured him that officers were on the way. Just then, Davison spotted the pickup truck again. It had turned around, heading south on the highway, and was pulling up to his stranded car.

"He's [expletive] here," Davison told police. The dispatchers heard the sound of crunching footsteps, and Davison's tires spinning as he tried, unsuccessfully, to drive away. Then, gunshots rang out.

When first responders arrived, the Ford Ranger was gone, and Davison had been shot in the hand, leg and head. He died of his injuries not long afterward. The seemingly random nature of the killing baffled investigators, who found no evidence suggesting that road rage had been a factor. A kindly Bob Marley fan who worked as a pipe fitter and commercial welder and loved the outdoors, Davison didn't have ties to the area, let alone any enemies there who might want to kill him.

It would take nearly a year and a half, and another death, before a married couple's tip would lead police to John Wayne Strawser Jr., who on Tuesday was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The 42-year-old, a West Virginia native, had never met Davison. What unfolded that night turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, involving two similar-looking silver SUVs and an affair that took a dark turn.

Strawser - described by Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal as a "murdering hillbilly from West Virginia," according to PennLive - had previously pleaded guilty to charges including assault, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, harassment and reckless driving. Multiple women he'd dated told police that he was abusive and controlling and displayed aggressive and stalker-like behavior when they tried to leave the relationship, the Carlisle Sentinel reported. In one case, Strawser was accused of threatening to cut an unborn child out of a woman; in two others, he allegedly showed up at the women's homes and destroyed their cars.

Courtney Breese also discovered that Strawser could turn obsessive and menacing. The two had grown up together in the small town of Terra Alta, West Virginia, she told the Sentinel, but lost touch as they grew older. In the fall of 2013, Breese, who was married, reconnected with Strawser on Facebook. They began a short-lived affair, spending time together when she traveled back to West Virginia to visit family. Breese trusted her childhood friend enough to invite him to her Pennsylvania home for Thanksgiving when he had nowhere else to spend the holiday. Her husband, Jamie Breese, didn't know about the affair but sensed that something was off with Strawser.

"In the beginning, I told my wife 'stay away from him,' but she didn't listen, and I guess that's what got us where we are now," he told the Sentinel.

Soon after getting back in touch with Strawser, Courtney began receiving strange text messages from an unknown number, she told the paper. Strawser denied that he was responsible, and promised to protect her from whoever was stalking her. Then, in late December 2013, the Breeses went out for a date night at a West Virginia bar located roughly an hour from their home. They were shocked when Strawser - who lived more than two hours to the east - showed up at the same bar. Over the course of the night, the couple said, Strawser grew increasingly angry because Courtney wasn't paying attention to him. When they left, he began aggressively calling and texting them, then showed up at their house and demanded Courtney come outside. Eventually, when they threatened to call police, he went away.

The Breeses both agreed that it was time to cut off all ties with Strawser. But when they returned to the same bar a week later, in January 2014, they ran into him again. This time, the couple left, and Strawser began angrily calling Courtney, according to trial testimony. Jamie picked up the phone and told the man to stop bothering his wife. Strawser responded by threatening to kill him.

"I didn't feel threatened because I've heard him mouth off so many times," Jamie testified in court, according to the Chambersburg Public Opinion. "I told him, 'If you're man enough to do it, then come and do it.'"

The Breeses drove back to Pennsylvania on back roads, rather than taking the highway. That same night, Davison was shot and killed on the same stretch of Interstate 81 that the couple would have ordinarily taken to get home. Like the Breeses, he drove a midsize silver SUV - though his was a Mitsubishi Montero and theirs was a Honda Pilot.

When the couple heard the news, they briefly pondered whether Strawser could have been responsible for the 28-year-old's death. But they dismissed that thought, believing there was no way that their former friend was actually capable of murder.

"I said, 'Do you think it was John?' and she said, 'No, it couldn't have been,'" Jamie Breese told PennLive.

Police launched an extensive search for Davison's killer that spanned several states, but had little to work with aside from a vague description of the dark blue Ford Ranger and a relatively unique .44-caliber shell casing that had been found at the scene. They received nearly 700 tips and investigated several suspects who owned guns or trucks matching the suspect's or had been accused of firing shots at cars. None of the leads panned out. Then, in April 2015, 16 months after Davison's death, Strawser was accused of fatally shooting his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Amy Lou Buckingham, after she tried to end their relationship.

Suddenly, what had seemed like a coincidence was thrown into sharp relief. The Breeses went to the police, saying that they believed they had been the intended target of the highway shooting.

Other evidence pointed to Strawser, who in October 2016 was sentenced to life in prison for killing Buckingham, PennLive reported. The shell casing matched a gun Strawser had thrown in a swamp near his home. His cellphone records showed that he had been in the area where the shooting occurred, and his DNA couldn't be excluded from the sample taken from the shell casing. He also owned a blue Ford Ranger, which he painted black shortly after the murder.

When questioned about whether he had shot Davison, Strawser answered that he didn't remember, according to records obtained by the Portland Press Herald. He claimed that he had been at his job hauling coal that night, but his employer told police that wasn't true.

During the trial, which began July 29 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Strawser's attorney argued that his client was a "motor head" and wouldn't have confused the two SUVs, PennLive reported. He questioned the Breeses' credibility, asking why they had taken more than a year to contact the police, and insinuating that they had deliberately waited until the reward grew to roughly $63,000. The couple, he noted, had sued Davison's mother after she decided that she wouldn't give them the reward money because she felt they had waited too long to come forward.

The Breeses denied that they had been motivated by potential financial gain: Jamie testified that he had stayed silent for months because he didn't want to run the risk of making a false accusation, fearing that he would get sued or "look like an idiot." He also insisted that he had not come forward as revenge for his wife's affair, as the defense attorney had suggested.

Fogal, the prosecutor, described the Breeses as "knuckleheads," according to PennLive.

"I'm not asking you to like them," he told the jury, acknowledging that they had waited far too long to call the police. "They're disgusting."

Still, he said, their story had checked out.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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