TAMPA — Ivan Echevarria awoke early Saturday covered in another man's blood, authorities said.
The 40-year-old construction worker had slept the night in the carport of the home where he'd been drinking the night before, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. It didn't take long for him to figure out whose blood it was — a few feet away from where Echevarria woke up lay the body of Luis Rojas, 79, the owner of the home at 1923 S 66th St. in Palm River, an unincorporated community east of Tampa.
Echevarria started screaming, according to the Sheriff's Office. He ran to a neighboring home and banged on the door while yelling for the police. The neighbor called 911 about 5:20 a.m. Echevarria then led deputies to the body.
Echevarria told detectives everything he remembered of the night before, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cristal Bermudez Nunez said later. Then detectives found a witness, a third person who had been drinking with Echevarria and Rojas on Friday night. After interviewing the witness, the Sheriff's Office arrested Echevarria Saturday on a charge of second-degree murder.
He had beaten Rojas to death, detectives said. His motive? Rojas had tried to stop Echevarria from driving while intoxicated, the Sheriff's Office said. Rojas thought Echevarria was too drunk to make the 11-mile trek back to his home on W Waters Ave., so Rojas took the younger man's keys and put them in his pocket. Echevarria responded by beating Rojas, then passing out near the body, the Sheriff's Office said.
"The suspect became angry because he couldn't find his keys and he didn't want to stay and sleep it off as the victim had suggested," Nunez said.
Echevarria did not admit to the crime Saturday.
"He remembers the before and after," Nunez said. "He doesn't remember the beating."
Detectives were still working the crime scene at the two-bedroom, red-brick home Saturday evening. A few of Rojas' relatives gathered by the yellow crime scene tape declined to comment.
Echevarria has not been convicted of a violent crime before in Florida, according to state records. A January 2010 aggravated battery charge in Miami was eventually dropped. In December 2009 he was arrested for disorderly intoxication in Miami, records show. He pleaded no contest and adjudication was withheld. He was being held without bail Saturday night in the Hillsborough County jail.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.