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Charges Expected in Florida Slaying

January 08, 2002
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Charges Expected in Florida Slaying

Groundskeeper is suspected in death of ex-Mass. woman

by Jessica Van Sack, Boston Globe

After recovering a minivan they say was used to run down a former Winchester woman, Florida authorities say they are preparing to charge a groundskeeper with her death and that of an off-duty firefighter who may have witnessed the woman's killing.

Boynton Beach police Sergeant Thomas McCabe said yesterday investigators are gathering forensic evidence to charge Octavio Berrera, 28, with killing Beth Nowell, a 34-year-old Suffolk Law School graduate, and 48-year-old Delray Beach firefighter Peter Firehock, whose body was found across the road from Nowell's on Dec. 22.

Delray Beach Fire Chief Russ Accardi described Firehock as the type of person who would have tried to stop a crime in progress.

Berrera, of Boynton Beach, is being held without bail on charges of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

He was arraigned Sunday along with his wife, who police said is accused of cleaning off evidence from the minivan, repairing a cracked windshield, and concealing the vehicle. Boynton Beach Police Chief Marshall Gage said Nicole Berrera, 29, was charged with tampering with evidence after she allegedly hid the blue 1995 Plymouth Voyager in a U-Haul cargo van 150 miles from the Berreras' home.

Gage said Octavio Berrera is suspected of attacking other women in the area.

Judy Nowell, 56, yesterday said her daughter, a single mother of two, was headed for success until chronic bouts of depression led her to drugs and crime.

"Beth had everything in the world going for her," said Nowell, owner of a moving company in Winchester.

Beth Nowell was an honors student at Winchester High School and had volunteered as a mentor for young children. She moved to Florida two years ago to enter a rehabilitation program for a drug addiction, but became caught up in crime and more drugs, her mother said.

Gage said Nowell had a lengthy arrest record that included five arrests in the past two years on charges of shoplifting, carrying a concealed weapon, narcotics possession, and prostitution.

Police would not say whether her record may have played a part in her slaying, but they said she may have known her assailant.

"We're looking into every possibility," Gage said.

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