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Passenger speaks up about drunk driving & death of officer

The 21-year-old passenger of the van that hit and killed Ligonier police officer Eric Eslary has admitted that he and the 31-year-old driver of the two friends’ company van had drank most of an 18-pack of beer before that fatal accident last week. The young man called a Pittsburgh news source from his hospital room sometime last week and began divulging information that he could remember from the night of the horrible accident. The crash happened along Route 30 in Ligonier, just in front of Idlewild Park when the driver of the van found himself and in the wrong lane and smashed head into Lieutenant Eslary as Eslary and his K-9 companion crested a hit. Sources say the 21-year-old expressed deep sorrow for Eslary’s family. He also told sources that he worked with the driver of the van and that it was the first time the two of them had ever drank beer together. The 21-year-old said they must have been in the wrong lane for at least a minute or two, but that he didn’t realize it because he was on his phone. As of now, there are no reports of any open containers at the scene of the accident, but criminal charges are likely pending. Though police will likely wait to file charges until after Eslary’s funeral, which is scheduled for today. The 21-year-old told police that he and the 31-year-old van driver were finished working at about 7:30 p.m. on Monday evening before returning to Westmoreland Pools and Spas. He said the two of them picked up an 18-pack of beer and drank most of it at the warehouse, giving a beer or two to another co-worker and drinking nearly the rest. “I never really hung out with him outside work,” according to the witness. Having drank so much and not eaten, the two decided to stop at Sheetz and the driver told the passenger he could stay at the driver’s home that night since they had been drinking needed to wake up early for work the next day. It was on the way to the driver’s home when the accident occurred. Gifford said the men left Sheetz and were headed to Mr. Fink’s Ligonier home. Mr. Fink would typically pick Gifford up in the morning to go to work, Gifford said. But because the men had been out late, Gifford proposed staying at Mr. Fink’s house Monday night so they could head straight into work the next morning. When he was asked how the van ended up in the wrong lane, the passenger said he had no idea , that he saw headlights, but that he thought the headlights and assumed they were just in the other lane. “When I realized we were in the wrong lane it was way too late,” said the young man. He said that he remained conscious the entire time, that he attempted to help the officer, and that he didn’t hear the dog during the time he inspected the accident. He says he went back and forth between Eslary and the van driver to try to get them answer but he wasn’t getting anything and more police arrived shortly thereafter. Reflecting back on what happened the van passenger said that he was very lucky to have received only minor injuries, that he is extremely sorry to the families and community, and that if had been thirty seconds earlier or later none of this would have ever happened. Source: Post-Gazette.com, “Passenger says he, van driver were drinking for fours before officer’s fatal crash” 7 May 2015

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