EDISON — Al Barbarite and his employees called Kevin Meisnest about four times Tuesday morning when he didn't show up for work at Car Guy's Auto Repair & Towing.
When they failed to reach him, they went to his apartment next door to the Casey Avenue business.
"We knocked on his door, and no response," said Barbarite, the business owner. "I just knew it. I started getting that gut feeling that something was wrong."
His fears were realized when, authorities say, police responded and found Meisnest, a 25-year-old tow truck driver, fatally shot in the apartment.
Another township man, Luis Padilla, 27, was charged Thursday with Meisnest's murder and was being held in New York City, pending extradition to Middlesex County. He also was charged with possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose.
Barbarite said Friday that he and his workers are all searching for answers to help explain why their colleague was murdered.
"Everybody I know is the same way," he said. "The question is why? What was the motive? And I just can't see what the motive would be, knowing Kevin."
The motive was still under investigation Friday, authorities said, but officials on Thursday described Meisnest and Padilla as acquaintances.
Barbarite said Meisnest worked for the Edison business on and off for three years, describing him as a dedicated and trustworthy employee who loved his job as a tow truck driver. The business owner said he sometimes treated Meisnest like a son, whether by loaning him money or helping him pay for an apartment right next door to the business.
"Overall he was a really good kid, without a doubt," Barbarite said. "Definitely not a trouble maker or anything like that."
Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said Thursday that Meisnest's employer called police around 10:35 a.m. Tuesday. After officers met him at Meisnest's apartment, they went inside and found that he had been shot to death.
The results of an autopsy performed Thursday were not immediately available, but Kaplan said it appeared Meisnest had been shot multiple times.
Investigators found that Padilla went to a relative's home in Brooklyn, N.Y., after he allegedly shot and killed Meisnest, Kaplan said. He was brought to a precinct station in Brooklyn late Wednesday before he was charged around 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
Bail for Padilla was set at $1 million by Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves, sitting in New Brunswick.
The investigation was conducted by Edison police Detective Frank Varga and Sgt. Eleazar Ricardo and Investigator Michael Daniewicz, both of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. Kaplan asked anyone with information to call Varga 732-248-7400 or Daniewicz 732-745-4018.
Joshua Burd:732-565-7228; jburd@MyCentralJersey.com