Lieutenant Eric A. Eslary
Ligonier Township Police Department, Pennsylvania
End of Watch: Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Tour of Duty: 17 years
Badge Number: Not available
Cause of Death: Automobile accident
Date of Incident: May 5, 2015
Weapon Used: Automobile
Suspect Info: Not available
Agency Contact Information
Police Chief Michael Matrunics
Ligonier Township Police Department
1 Municipal Park Drive
Ligonier, PA 15658
Phone: (724) 238-5105
Lieutenant Eric Eslary was killed in a vehicle collision on Route 30, near Clark Hollow Road, at approximately 2:00 am.
His patrol SUV was struck head-on by a van driving the wrong way on the divided highway. His canine partner suffered serious injuries and underwent surgery at an emergency animal hospital. The two occupants of the van were critically injured.
Lieutenant Eslary had served with the Ligonier Township Police Department for 17 years. He is survived by his wife and six children.
LIGONIER, Pa. —A Ligonier Township police officer was killed early Tuesday morning, leaving behind a wife and six children, after a head-on crash with a work van that state police said was traveling the wrong way.
The Westmoreland County Coroner said Tuesday night Lt. Eric Eslary died from blunt force trauma to the head, chest and extremities after an autopsy was performed at Carlow University.
The body of Eslary was escorted by police vehicles in a procession from Westmoreland County to the Oakland neighborhood in Pittsburgh during the afternoon.
State police said the van collided with Eslary’s patrol SUV around 2 a.m. near Idlewild Park and Soak Zone on Route 30 in Westmoreland County. Eslary died and his K-9 partner, Blek, a 6-year-old German shepard, was taken to Avets, a specialty and emergency veterinary hospital in Monroeville.
The van driver, identified by police as Clair Fink III, 31, and his passenger were taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center. Police said Fink was in critical condition.
Police said the van belongs to Westmoreland Pools and Spas in Irwin. Officials there didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment, and police did not immediately say how, or if, the men in the van were associated with the business.
State police are investigating the crash. They said Eslary was in the left lane, wearing his seat belt, and the oncoming van was headed east in the westbound lane for an unknown reason.
Route 30 at Clark Hollow Road is a divided highway with a barrier running along the middle. The collision happened just as Eslary cleared the crest of the hill at Clark Hollow Road.
nvestigators do not know where Fink turned onto Route 30. After the accident site, the first road that connects is a half mile away. After that, the next opportunity to get onto Route 30 is 3.7 miles away at the Route 217 Junction.
Anyone who saw the van going the wrong way is being asked to call police, because Trooper Steve Limani said there were no 911 calls made to report the activity.
"He basically had no warning, no warning signs, did not have any idea or was not forewarned by 911 dispatch that there was a vehicle heading the wrong direction," Limani said. "How they got onto the wrong side is obviously part of our investigation — where and how long they were traveling — so if anyone does have any information or did witness a vehicle traveling in the wrong direction on that particular stretch of roadway at that time, please contact the state police barracks in Greensburg."
Blood will be drawn from the drivers so toxicology tests can be performed, Limani said.
Court records indicate that Fink was arrested on suspicion of DUI in 2006 for allegedly driving with more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. The charge was dismissed after Fink completed an alcohol rehabilitation program. In 2011, Fink pleaded guilty to a summary charge of public drunkenness.
Eslary’s loss was being felt in the community, where he was described as a member of the police force for nearly two decades, a local volunteer, a mason, vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police and someone who had a large presence in area schools.
About 15 miles down the road from Ligonier Township, a couple in New Florence, Pennsylvania, says they know the true character of Lt. Eric Eslary, after a chance encounter in 2014.
Randy and Carol Henderson tell Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 that their daughter Hattie totaled her car on Valentine’s Day last year in a snowstorm and was stuck on the side of the road. They said she was uninjured but very shaken up and scared.
The Henderson’s said Lt. Eslary showed up with his canine partner, "Blek", and helped Hattie for more than three hours, until state police could arrive.
Eslary was actually outside of his own township, which is why he had to wait for state police to take over, but he never left Hattie’s side.
“His father instincts came out, rather than his police instincts at a time like that because he has daughters," said Mr. Henderson.
Neither Carol, Randy nor Hattie had ever met Eric Eslary before that day, but Hattie had participated in the local 4-H club with his daughters.
“I almost burst into tears just thinking about him and his family because he was so kind that day," said Mrs. Henderson.
They both said they were devastated by the news that Lt. Eslary had been killed.
“Knowing the kids, I know he passed on a lot of things to them that they’ll show in the future and they’ll grow up to be pretty good kids because I think they’ve got a good base," said Mrs. Henderson.
Eslary’s wife, Mary Beth, is a county 911 dispatcher who was off duty at the time of the crash but went to the scene when she learned about the fatal accident. Police said she played a critical role in working with K-9 Blek because the dog did not want to leave Lt. Eslary.
According to the critical care doctor who is treating Blek, the dog’s condition is considered serious.
"His condition is relatively stable, while he did have trouble with his back legs initially after the accident, he is able to bear weight and walk on them, so he is not paralyzed," Dr. Megan Kaplan said. "At this time, and in regards to other internal injuries, it seems to be limited to what we call a traumatic hemo-abdomen, which means he means hes got some hemorrhaging in his abdominal cavity."
Doctors said if all continues to go well, Blek could go home within 24 to 48 hours.
"It’s going to be a long couple days, but this community will come together like it always does," said Eslary’s longtime friend, John Berger, the police chief in neighboring Ligonier Borough.
Donations are being accepted at the following:
Washington Financial C/O Eric Eslary
3616 Washington Road
McMurray, Pa., 15317
Western Pennsylvania Police Benevolent Foundation
337 Winners Circle
Cannonsburg, Pa., 15317