NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The bizarre Long Island body parts case took a strange turn on Friday when a livery cab driver claimed to be a key witness to the effort by a Brooklyn murder suspect to dispose of a body.
As WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported, New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers spokesman Fernando Mateo hopes the memory of that driver seals the case against Leah Cuevas.
“We believe we have a very credible witness,” Mateo said.
The driver, only identified as “Ernesto,” recognized Cuevas as a regular customer, Smith reported.
“He started putting things together in his mind when he saw her face on TV,” Mateo said.
The driver allegedly remembers driving Cuevas from Brooklyn out to Brentwood, Long Island just one day before body parts started turning up — helping her with what was described as an extremely heavy suitcase, Smith reported.
“She called him personally and said ‘I need to be taken to Brentwood, Long Island and I have two suitcases I need to transport,'” Mateo said.
The driver said it then turned out to be one suitcase.
“(It was) wrapped in a plastic, heavy-duty plastic bag,” Mateo said.
The driver took his story to Suffolk County police, who told WCBS 880 they would not comment because the case is still under investigation.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, the driver is telling people Cuevas seemed absolutely normal, wasn’t nervous at all on the ride out to Brentwood with that heavy suitcase in the trunk. At one point she even asked the driver to stop at a gas station so she could buy lottery tickets.
“He took her to Brentwood where he then helped her unload the bag, put it on the hand truck, and he saw she left it behind a home,” Mateo said.
Brentwood is just a few miles from Bay Shore, where Browne’s torso was found on July 8.
The driver’s car has a surveillance camera, and Mateo said any images of Cuevas will be turned over to police.
Meanwhile, Browne’s family is demanding answers on where the woman was killed and dismembered, and if her killer had any help, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.
As church bells chimed from a block away, neighbors passing the Brooklyn building where Browne was last seen alive tried to come to grips with what police believe sparked the unimaginable crime: extortion.
“She has to pay for the crime that she committed,” said Browne’s aunt Pauline Claxton.
Browne’s family shutters to think of the young mother’s body being carved like a wild animal, and wonders where the dismemberment took place.
Prosecutors said there was blood spatter on the walls of the Cuevas’ apartment after a violent confrontation over unpaid utility bills and a lack of electricity.
Neighbors told McLogan that Cuevas posed as a landlord, collecting rent and Browne had threatened to expose her.
“That is an extreme reaction to a small problem,” said one neighbor.
“No one deserves to die that viciously,” said another neighbor.
From bloodcurdling screams in Brooklyn, to Hempstead where Browne’s decapitated head was found, to Bay Shore where much of her body was dumped — less than a mile from Cuevas’ sister’s home, McLogan reported.
Neighbors said they won’t rest until everyone involved in the crime is brought to justice.
“To put our community at ease, for here and Hempstead. I mean it really is, it’s a Long Island bizarre murder case and to have this be part of Bay Shore right now, we don’t need that,” said Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane.
CBS 2 has learned that Cuevas’ sister lives on a street near Bay Shore High School. Homeowners said police have been going door-to-door asking what residents might have seen or heard in the days right before Browne’s torso and legs were found near a Fire Island Ferry parking lot.
Cuevas’ sister and husband have not been charged in the case. According to a source, they are being questioned and are cooperating, MgLogan reported.
Cuevas had no prior arrests, though her psychiatric history is being explored.
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