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Suspect arrested in death, burning of man

ZEPHYRHILLS — Justin Ash is accused of shooting a man twice in the head, dragging his body into the woods and torching it near some railroad tracks.

He says he didn't do it.

"Just because I was one of the last people to see him alive doesn't mean I had something to do with his death," said Ash, 23, from the Pasco County jail Wednesday evening. He was arrested Tuesday and charged with second-degree murder.

He said the victim, 45-year-old Timothy J. Preston, "sold a lot of pills" and "messed with" a lot of people.

"It could have been anybody," Ash said.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has not confirmed the name of the victim — whom authorities say was killed at Ash's house at 8638 Hamster Drive in Zephyrhills — because they are waiting on DNA tests to confirm the man's identity, said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. He said those results should take a week.

The arrest report states the victim had been reported missing before his body was discovered. On Friday night the Zephyrhills Police Department issued a news release about Preston, who had been missing since Jan. 16 from that same address on Hamster Drive.

Preston was last seen driving a rental car registered to Hertz Corp. out of Casselberry.

The Sheriff's Office said the murder victim's rental car was found near the body.

The car was also burned.

Witnesses told the Sheriff's Office that the slaying happened in the early hours of Jan. 16 inside the house on Hamster Drive. One witness said she was in the living room and heard a gunshot come from the kitchen.

The report says Ash came into the living room, said he'd shot the victim and needed help.

Then Ash went back into the kitchen and the witness heard a second shot. When she went into the kitchen, she saw "blood and the victim rolled up in a sheet," the report states.

The witness said Ash "placed the victim under the trailer until he was later taken out (to) the railroad tracks and burned."

An autopsy by the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office said the victim died "as a result of being shot in the back of the head twice," the Sheriff's Office said.

Ash said he and his girlfriend moved to Florida a few months ago, looking for a better life. He wouldn't say how he met Preston.

This is Ash's first arrest in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He is being held without bail at the Pasco County jail.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Suspect arrested in death, burning of man 02/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 8:37pm]
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