PHILADELPHIA – Ashley Burg (search) left her tough city neighborhood in hopes of building a more stable life with a relative in suburban New Jersey, and earning a high school diploma.
But the 17-year-old could not resist the lure of drugs and perhaps easy money, investigators believe, and her nearly nude body was found dumped near a freeway after she spent a day with a businessman who had hired her through an escort service. Authorities suspect she overdosed.
Philadelphia (search) Homicide Lt. Phil Riehl said police believe it was her first time working for the escort service.
"How she came to do it on this particular evening, we don't know. We don't know if it was for money or for drugs or what," Riehl said.
Prosecutors are awaiting toxicology reports and said it could be weeks before they decide whether to file any charges. Authorities do not know if she died at the escort client's home or after the service sent people to retrieve her. An autopsy showed no sign of trauma.
David F. Downey (search), a divorced, middle-aged financial executive, acknowledges that he paid $600 for Burg to come to his house on July 31. Downey had used the escort service about 15 times in the past four years for female companionship, according to his lawyer, Thomas Egan.
The girl told Downey she was 22, and spent the next 24 hours at his home feeling ill. She was in and out of sleep and consciousness, Egan said.
"She asked to stay there because she felt safe there," Egan said.
Downey saw what looked like cocaine near her nose, and told her to stop using drugs, he told police.
According to a police affidavit, Downey said he called the escort service several times for help throughout the 24-hour period, and gave them $2,000 to take Burg to a hospital when two people finally arrived.
But go-go dancer Christine Shute said Downey told her the girl was dead when she arrived. Downey directed Shute and a friend to a hospital, but they instead dumped the body near the highway as the stench overcame them, according to the woman's statement to police.
Downey did nothing criminally wrong, his lawyer said.
"It's a whole different issue whether he feels criminally responsible or morally responsible," Egan said. "He would feel bad for anybody in that situation, regardless of their age. He did not know that she was 17."
Before she died, Burg was living with a relative in Willingboro, N.J., but frequently visited family and friends in her native Philadelphia. Her family has said they did not think she was using drugs.
"The family is very despondent. They felt like she had turned her life around," Riehl said.