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Friend plans to return home to Mexico in wake of man's death

Police search for two suspects while a man wonders why his friend was beaten to death.

Benjamin Salgado-Ortiz had been saving up the money he earned ripping asbestos from old buildings. Friends say he had dreams of returning to Mexico later this year.

Humberto Morales worked alongside Salgado-Ortiz. He said he'd been saving, too. Every 15 days or so, he said, he sent $300 to $400 to his parents in Mexico City.

Now, because of what happened to him and Salgado-Ortiz Saturday night, he says he wants to leave Dade City and return to Mexico.

For reasons unknown to Morales, two men showed up at his dilapidated house at 15022 Lee St. and launched a brutal attack that detectives are investigating as a homicide.

Salgado-Ortiz, 27, was in cardiac arrest by the time paramedics arrived. They couldn't save him.

Morales, who speaks almost no English, told the Times through an interpreter Tuesday that he "felt very secure when I came here, but now that this has happened, I'd rather be back in Mexico. It has scared me."

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has not released details of the attack, except to say that Salgado-Ortiz died as a result of trauma.

"We are following leads and the information given by (Morales)," sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said Tuesday. He wouldn't discuss whether detectives believed there were any weapons involved.

On Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office released composite sketches of the two attackers as described by Morales.

Both suspects are Hispanic men, the Sheriff's Office said. One is in his mid-30s, about 5 feet 5 and 140-150 pounds. He has dark brown hair and a medium complexion. The other suspect is in his late 20s, about 5 feet 8 and 180 pounds, the Sheriff's Office said. He has a dark complexion and slicked-back black hair.

Detectives interviewed Morales for several hours Tuesday. Afterward, a soft-spoken Morales told the Times that he didn't know the men who attacked them. He said he's been in Dade City for 18 months and knows most people in the town's tightly-knit Mexican-American community.

He said he was hesitant to talk about the attack, fearful that the suspects might retaliate.

"I'm still in fear," said Morales, 30, "in fear of my life."

Morales did provide some details. He said Salgado-Ortiz came to his house earlier Saturday night to use his phone. Salgado-Ortiz didn't have a phone at his nearby apartment and wanted to call his mother, Morales said.

The two friends watched television for a little while, then Salgado-Ortiz called a taxi, Morales said. But before the taxi arrived, there was a knock at the door. Morales said he and Salgado-Ortiz went to the porch and asked the men what they wanted.

"They asked for a woman," Morales said. "They were looking for a woman who was here an hour and a half earlier." He said the woman had come over to use the phone.

When Morales told the men that the woman wasn't there, the beating began, he said. One man punched him, knocking him back into the living room, Morales said. The man then hit him in the back of his head with a pipe, knocking him unconscious.

He said he didn't see what the other man did to Salgado-Ortiz. When Morales came to, he stumbled onto the porch and found his friend near death, he said.

He said he has no explanation for the attack.

His uncle, Jose Morales, said nobody would have had a reason to harm his nephew or Salgado-Ortiz.

"They were very calm," Jose Morales said. "They didn't have any enemies. They didn't drink."

Salgado-Ortiz had no family in Dade City and there will be no funeral here. Friends and neighbors have contacted the Mexican consulate about shipping his body back to his hometown of Michoacan, where his mother lives.

They're also trying to raise money to send his body home.

Anyone with information about the suspects is asked to call Detective Allen Proctor at (800) 854-2863, ext. 5115.

_ Times staff photographer Bobby Sanchez contributed to this report.