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$10,000 reward offered for arrest in killing of Good Samaritan veteran

Neon lights twinkle above police line tape on Aug. 10, 2016.

GINA FERAZZI/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

By CASMIRA HARRISON AND PATRICIO G. BALONA | | Published: November 14, 2017

DELTONA, Fla. – When a 60-year-old veteran saw a car crash into a ditch near his Deltona home on Veterans Day, he went to give aid — only to be gunned down by the car's occupants and have his truck stolen and torched, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said Monday.

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the killing of Carlos Cruz Echevarria, an Army veteran who was shot to death on Saturday. His pickup was found torched in Pine Hills near Orlando a couple of hours after his body was found next to the car stuck in the mud in the ditch at Malaga Avenue and Puritan Street.

"By all accounts this was a Good Samaritan that was killed while trying to help someone," Chitwood said of the man neighbors and family knew as Carlos Cruz.

Cruz did a short stint in the Army and was honorably discharged, according to his brother-in-law, Edgar Burgos.

"He died on Veterans Day, helping somebody out," Burgos told a reporter. "It's tragic."

Cruz would stop whatever he was doing to lend a hand, said Burgos, who works for the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.

"If you needed something and he had it, he would give it to you," Burgos said in a press release. "Knowing him, I bet he went over there to see if they needed help."

Neighbors agreed, saying the veteran was known to go out of his way to help others in his neighborhood, Chitwood said.

Cruz was a longtime resident of the neighborhood, having bought the house in 1985, according to property records. He ran a home-based business called A New Appearance Inc., which state corporate records said was inactive. The business was related to construction, according to an Internet listing.

Investigators believe Cruz was in his driveway when he heard the crash and went to see what happened, Chitwood said. After seeing the Chrysler 200 stuck in the ditch, Cruz offered to help.

He returned with his truck to pull the Chrysler out of the ditch. That's when investigators believe Cruz was shot and his truck stolen, Chitwood said.

A man walking his dog around 8 p.m. on Saturday called 9-1-1 after seeing the car in the ditch. He said he got a flashlight to check things out and that's when he saw the man in the ditch next to the car. He said the car's passenger door and trunk was open.

"There's a car pulled off the side of the road and there's somebody laying in the ditch there right alongside it," the caller said.

Chitwood authorized the reward.

"We owe it to Mr. Cruz and his family to find the ruthless, cold-blooded killer or killers who took his life," the sheriff said. "It takes a special kind of evil to gun down a stranger who is only trying to help you. And anyone who knows something and stays silent is complicit in this heinous act."

Anonymous tips can be submitted to Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida at 888-277-TIPS, on the web at westopcrime.com or via the app available for download at the website. Or call 386-248-1777 to reach the VCSO Communications Center and speak to a dispatcher.

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©2017 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.
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