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12:31 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

Apparent murder, suicide erupts in store lot

PRESCOTT -- Two local men died Monday night in what appears to be a homicide-suicide incident at the Frontier Village and farther down Highway 69 in Prescott.

The Yavapai-Prescott Tribal Police received a call about a homicide that occurred around 10:15 p.m. in the parking lot of Target, Chief Robert Reed said.

"The victim, a 17-year-old white male, had come to meet his girlfriend and deliver her medication," he said, adding that the girlfriend was working at the store. "He was confronted by the girlfriend's adopted father and he was shot multiple times. He was pronounced dead at the scene."

Reed said that he believes Peter Vernaskas, 55, of Prescott shot the young man six times.

Vernaskas left the area in a Ford pickup and authorities later found him in his vehicle just east of the location, dead as a result of an apparent suicide.

The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office (YCSO) conducted that part of the investiga-tion. The agency received a call at around 10:45 p.m. regarding a one-vehicle accident near the intersection of Highway 69 and Prescott Canyon Drive, YCSO Sgt. Dave Rhodes said.

When deputies arrived on the scene, they found that a Ford pickup truck had hit a guardrail and left the roadway, a YCSO press release states, adding that inside the vehicle, authorities found the body of Vernaskas, who appeared to have a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.

Rhodes said that detectives recovered two handguns -- .22 caliber and .357 caliber -- from the pickup.

Reed said that it is possible that Vernaskas shot and killed the young man with one of those handguns.

He said the father was not happy with his daughter's relationship with the young man.

"We don't have a lot of information as to exactly why," Reed said, adding that prior to the shooting there was some conversation between the girl and her family. "But I don't have details on that yet."

He said his agency is not releasing the name of the young man at this time. The medical examiner will determine the cause of Vernaskas' death.

Reed said that his agency is still investigating the homicide and the YCSO is investigating the suicide, and "we feel obviously they are connected."

Contact the reporter at

mburicadam@prescottaz.com