Trenton Police Sgt. Astbury got ‘startled’ upon finding murdered body in trunk

Sgt. Jason Astbury received awards for valor and merit during a May 2010 police ceremony but was shaken eight months later when he discovered the murdered body of Dardar Paye stuffed inside the trunk of a Buick sedan.

Trenton Police Sgt. Jason Astbury

Trenton Police Sgt. Jason Astbury

“I was startled,” Astbury said Thursday during witness testimony. “I’ve never come across anything like that in my career.”

Astbury found the body in the trunk on Jan. 16, 2011, following an interstate police chase that began in Trenton and ended on Route 1 in Falls Township, Pennsylvania.

Paye, 33, was a U.S. Army veteran and Liberian immigrant who had been shot and killed in the basement of a Monmouth Street home in Trenton before getting placed in garbage bags and stuffed in the Buick’s trunk. Astbury said he had checked the body for a pulse, to no avail.

Mack Edwards, one of the five defendants charged with the murder of Paye, was riding as a passenger in the Buick. When the vehicle slowed down to a near-full stop, Edwards opened the front passenger’s door and tried to exit from it, according to Astbury, who had placed Edwards in a front headlock in an effort to subdue him outside the moving vehicle.

Mack Edwards

Mack Edwards

“I had to punch him,” Astbury said on Thursday, adding he struck Edwards on the top of the head during a tussle. He was “on the ground struggling with the passenger” while another officer apparently reached inside the vehicle to put the Buick in park, he said.

Edwards, 31, of Trenton, was quickly placed in handcuffs. “They put a bandage on his head and he was placed in a police vehicle,” Astbury added.

Edwards is currently standing trial on murder charges alongside co-defendant and alleged triggerman Danuweli Keller, 29, of Hamilton.

The other co-defendants in the case — Trenton men Phobus Sullivan, 33, Abdutawab Kiazolu, 29, and William D. Brown, 32 — are expected to be tried later in the future. Sullivan is accused of driving the Buick in an attempt to dispose of Paye’s body.

The Trentonian previously reported that Astbury pursued the Buick because it had matched the description of a vehicle that was spotted during recent home invasion robberies in Trenton. When Astbury took notice of the Buick, police said, it was traveling with two other vehicles — a white minivan and a silver Mitsubishi — and they were all driving at a high rate of speed in the area of Anderson Street and Hamilton Avenue in the city’s Chambersburg section.

All three autos headed for the bridge on Route 1 South into Pennsylvania. The first car, the Mitsubishi, stopped to pay the toll at the bridge, but the other two vehicles drove through the toll plaza without paying, according to news accounts in The Trentonian, which cited police sources.

Astbury and Detective Charles Steever Jr. gave chase, police said, with the Buick stopping on Route 1 near the Oxford Valley exit in Bucks County’s Falls Township.

Danuweli Keller

Danuweli Keller

Police say Sullivan and Edwards exited the Buick and tried to flee on foot. Detective Eliezer Ramos caught up to Sullivan, while Astbury apprehended Edwards.

Pennsylvania State Police spotted the fleeing white minivan heading south on Interstate 95 at a high rate of speed. Police said Keller was driving the minivan and that Kiazolu was riding as a passenger inside that vehicle. Troopers brought the vehicle to a stop in Philadelphia by using spike strips to take out the vehicle’s tires and arrested Keller and Kiazolu, police said at the time.

Brown was later charged in connection with the murder after the arrests of Edwards, Keller, Sullivan and Kiazolu.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier is presiding over the Keller and Edwards murder trial, with defense attorney Peter Abatemarco representing Keller and defense attorney Mark G. Davis representing Edwards.

Dardar Paye

Dardar Paye

Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Michelle Gasparian is prosecuting Edwards and Keller on behalf of the state.

An audio recording of police radio chatter was played in the courtroom on Thursday. “There’s a body in the trunk we have,” Astbury said in the recording.

Astbury has been on the Trenton Police force since April 2000. He received service commendations for valor and merit in May 2010 and was named 2011 Trenton Police Officer of the Year several months after the body-in-the-trunk discovery.

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