LIGONIER TOWNSHIP (KDKA) – The community continues to mourn the loss of a Ligonier Township police officer.
Lt. Eric Eslary was killed Tuesday when his patrol vehicle was hit head-on by a van traveling the wrong way on Route 30.
KDKA’s Ross Guidotti Reports:
Autopsy results show Eslary died from blunt force trauma and his death has been ruled an accident.
Eslary’s K-9 partner, Blek, was badly hurt in the crash and continues to recover.
Pennsylvania State Police say it could take a week before toxicology results come in on 31-year-old Clair Fink, who was the driver of the oncoming van.
Fink remains in critical condition. A passenger in the van was also injured, but is expected to survive.
“The task of doing the reconstruction work and everything that goes into it is painstaking,” said Trooper Steve Limani, of the Pennsylvania State Police. “There’s a lot of interviews that we’re still conducting. We’re still in the infancy stages of inspecting all the vehicles, getting the search warrant served.”
Sources say Fink’s passenger, Derek Gifford, told investigators at the crash scene that he thought Fink was in the wrong lane before the impact.
Today, friends and co-workers remembered the 17-year veteran of the Ligonier Township Police Department.
“He was a real caring guy. He always checked up on my family,” Ali Miller said.
Miller is friends with Eslary’s daughter.
“He loved animals, hunting, fishing, what he and his daughter talked about hunting and fishing all the time,” Miller said.
KDKA’s Amy Wadas Reports:
Eslary leaves behind a wife and six kids – three boys and three girls. And many in the law enforcement community are chipping in to help the family and the grieving officers.
“Officers showed up from probably 100 miles away yesterday just to say, ‘What can I do?’” said Officer Greg Sullenberger, of Ligonier Borough Police.
It was 2 a.m. when the 40-year-old and Blek were out patrolling.
“I can’t put words to it. It’s something a chief or volunteer fire department should not experience for their own members,” Ligonier Township Police Chief Mike Matrunics said.
Meanwhile, Blek is making progress in his recovery.
“His condition is relatively stable. While he did have trouble with back legs initially after the accident, he is able to bear weight and walk on them so he is not paralyzed at this time,” AVETS Critical Care Specialist Megan Kaplan
Blek had some internal bleeding, but is expected to pull through.
Currently, the 6-year-old German Shepherd is resting comfortably under close watch. But Blek’s role after his recovery will likely shift though.
“They start training with someone like Eric and it’s hard to transition to someone else from my understanding. From my experience, most likely he’ll be with the family if they want him. They love their pets,” said Officer Sullenberger.
Visitation hours for Eslary will be Thursday and Friday at the McCracken Funeral Chapel of Ligonier from 2 p.m.- 4 p.m. and again from 6 p.m.- 8 p.m.
The funeral will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Ligonier. Eslary, who was also avolunteer firefighter, will be buried with full honors.
“This will probably be the largest funeral that has ever taken place in this area, definitely in the Ligonier valley,” said Christopher Tantlinger, the planning chief of Westmoreland County Emergency Services.