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Suspect arrested after woman fatally shot while waiting at stoplight in West Palm Beach on New Year's Eve 2020

Ashley Michelle Curtiss hit by multiple bullets, claiming her life
crime scene tape
Posted at 3:10 PM, Jun 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-01 15:10:47-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A suspect was arrested Wednesday more than two years after a woman was fatally shot in West Palm Beach while waiting at a stoplight on New Year's Eve.

The fatal shooting took place at Interstate 95 and 45th Street on Dec. 31, 2020, just after midnight.

Ashley Michelle Curtiss, 37, of West Palm Beach, was sitting in the driver's seat of the vehicle when she was hit by multiple bullets, claiming her life.

When the shooting took place, witnesses said a dark-colored, four-door vehicle with dark tint pulled up next to the victim on the passenger's side of Curtiss' vehicle. They said a suspect was hanging out of the driver's side rear window and firing a semi-automatic rifle at the Cadillac ATS.

Police said the woman's Cadillac had numerous bullet holes through the front windshield.

Several witnesses said the suspect's vehicle, a dark gray 2020 Chevrolet Malibu with a Texas license plate, fled northbound on I-95 after the shooting. Police said the vehicle was a sedan from Enterprise Rent-A-Car that was being rented by James Tooks Jr. It was later recovered in Riviera Beach at an abandoned residence.

According to a probable cause affidavit, police said before the shooting took place the suspect's vehicle was maneuvering in a manner in an effort to locate someone driving through the north end of West Palm Beach.

"It appeared the suspect vehicle located the target vehicle and got behind the target/victim's vehicle at 12:14 a.m. on North Australian Avenue," the affidavit said.

Police said James Leroy Tooks III, the son of the person who rented the car, claimed that the Chevrolet Malibu was stolen while it was parked on W 27th Street.

However, investigators said that evidence collected from the Malibu and tint recovered in the backyard of the abandoned house where the car was found matched the fingerprints of Tooks III and another man.

The affidavit also said that just before 1 a.m. Tooks III's cellphone was in the location where the vehicle was found abandoned. Investigators said other call records from the suspect's phone were consistent with the path of the car on the night of the shooting.

Tooks III, 26, of West Palm Bach, was arrested Wednesday and faces a charge of first-degree premeditated murder with a firearm. He is being held without bond at the main Palm Beach County jail.

The affidavit does not offer a reason for the killing.