Tow Truck Driver Suspect in Teen Athlete Slaying
BROOKHAVEN, Pa. (AP) _ A chatty tow truck driver who offered help to police investigating the beating death of an All-American lacrosse player is a suspect in the case.
Police hunting the killer of 22-year-old Aimee Willard were focusing on the trucker, once arrested but not convicted for stopping motorists by impersonating a police officer.
The truck driver showed up at the crime scene and told officers he might have information about the case. He asked so many questions that police became suspicious and started pressing for what he knew about the young woman’s final hours, according to reports published today.
Once the police began to question him, the driver stopped talking. He has since refused to cooperate. He has not been arrested, but has either retained or is in the process of retaining an attorney.
Police say the driver once worked in the same North Philadelphia neighborhood where Willard’s body was dumped, and that imprints on her body were consistent with the diamond-pattern tread of a tow truck bed.
As police continued their search, friends and teammates helped bury the young woman known as a star athlete at the Academy of Notre Dame deNamur in Villanova, an All-American at George Mason University in Virginia and a compassionate friend.
Willard, about to become a senior after a record-setting junior year, vanished last Wednesday after an evening with friends at a suburban Philadelphia bar.
Young boys found her naked body Thursday afternoon nearly 15 miles away in a trash-strewn lot in North Philadelphia. Paramedics earlier that morning happened upon her blue Honda on an Interstate 476 off-ramp, its headlights on, engine running and a pool of blood on the pavement.
Willard died of at least three strong blows to the head, an autopsy revealed. She had scrapes on her body and bruises on her hands, but no outward signs of sexual assault. She probably didn’t die until after being dropped near the corner of 16th and Indiana streets.
Friends last saw Willard at a college hangout in Wayne just 20 minutes before her car was found. A police investigator said Willard may have had some relationship with her attacker _ an acquaintance, perhaps, or a stalker.
``We’ve got a stack like this from people calling in,″ said State Police Sgt. Joseph Yazvac, holding his hands at least a foot apart.
Police have studied a surveillance camera at the bar and were searching for a man Willard was socializing with there. But they no longer believe that a fight in the tavern’s parking lot that night was related to her death.
On Monday, family and friends buried Willard at a private ceremony, the day after more than 4,000 mourners said their farewells as Willard’s silver casket passed beneath a canopy of lacrosse sticks lofted by the woman’s sobbing teammates.
``Amy practiced endlessly. No Barbie dolls or tea sets for her,″ Nancy Bonshock, Willard’s aunt said in her eulogy.
At George Mason, Willard this year set school records and led the Colonial Athletic Association in lacrosse scoring with 50 goals, including seven in one game. She was the team’s only soccer player to start every game this season.
At the viewing, shrines and photo montages honored athletic conquests and childhood landmarks. Mourners waited blocks before filing past her lacrosse stick, old team jerseys, pictures of Willard with the Christmas tree and at the prom, the basketball she shot years ago to score her 1,000th point for Notre Dame.
``Equally important were her lessons to us off the field. She was genuine and loyal, and the best listener you could want when you had a problem,″ said Alison Ainsworth, who played two sports with Willard at Notre Dame.
Pennsylvania State Police are asking for any information that might help the investigation.
The hot line number is: 800-883-6103