MUSCATINE — A material witness from Marion has been arrested in connection with a woman found dead on the roadside in rural Muscatine County.
Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren announced Friday that Douglas J. Foster, 35, was taken into custody Wednesday evening.
Under Iowa law, police can take a material witness to a crime into custody when there is probable cause to believe the witness would not be available for the service of a subpoena to appear at a subsequent hearing or trial, Ostergren said.
He said the allegation that an individual is a material witness is not an allegation the individual committed a crime.
Lea Ponce, 20, of Fairfield, was found dead about 1 a.m. Tuesday on the side of Highway 38 between Muscatine and Wilton.
Though the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office has not said whether Ponce’s death is considered a homicide, the criminal complaint charging Foster states he “is a material witness to the felony offense of murder in the first-degree.”
The sheriff’s office said results of the autopsy conducted Tuesday are pending.
Through their investigation, the sheriff’s office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation determined Ponce was last seen alive at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday entering a white GMC pickup at the Muscatine Walmart, according to the complaint.
Investigators said the truck is associated with Foster.
The criminal complaint states Foster’s vehicle was found parked behind a storage facility at 4857 10th Ave. in Marion. Investigators searched the facility and found some of Ponce’s personal property in an area “where it appeared Foster had been staying,” the complaint said.
Foster was found nearby, “hiding in an attic space among the rafters,” according to the complaint.
Investigators said Foster claimed he was hiding because he had active out-of-state arrest warrants. Police determined Foster has an active felony warrant out of Texas.
During an interview with investigators, Foster indicated he picked up Ponce at the Walmart. But “after a few minutes, she insisted on getting out of the vehicle,” and he let her out, the complaint said.
Foster said he then returned to Marion, getting his vehicle stuck on a maintenance road along the way.
Foster is being held at Muscatine County Jail on a $50,000 cash-only bond.
An obituary posted on the Behner Funeral Home and Crematory website said Ponce was the mother of two and worked as a housekeeper at AmericInn. The obituary says Ponce loved softball, soccer, dirt-track racing, cows and “spending time with her kids and family.”