- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The K-9 partner of a western Pennsylvania police officer killed in an unusual wrong-way crash was recovering from surgery Wednesday as state police continued to investigate the circumstances of the collision.

No charges have been filed in the crash that killed Ligonier Township Lt. Eric Eslary early Tuesday morning on U.S. Route 30. Both occupants of the van that was going east in the westbound lanes remained hospitalized.

Eslary, 40, was a father of six - blending his three children with three from his wife, Mary Beth, a Westmoreland County 911 dispatcher - when the couple married three years ago. A native of the township he served some 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, Eslary was also a volunteer firefighter and partnered with the township’s K-9 police officer, a German shepherd named Blek.

Funeral visitation for Eslary will be Thursday and Friday, with a funeral at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Ligonier on Saturday.

Eslary was killed when the van owned by Westmoreland Pools & Spas crashed head-on into his patrol SUV before 2 a.m. Tuesday. The highway’s east and west lanes are separated by heavy woods in much of the township, so the van would have traveled for some distance in the wrong lanes before the crash, police said.

Trooper Stephen Limani, a spokesman for the Greensburg barracks, said police usually receive 911 calls whenever a motorist is seen driving in the wrong direction. But the extent to which the rural highway is divided and the time the accident occurred may explain why police didn’t receive such calls, which might have warned Eslary that the vehicle was headed toward him as he crested a small hill.

“The only people who could see (the van) were the ones coming right at him,” Limani said, “which at 1:45 a.m. wouldn’t be very many cars.”

The van’s driver, Clair Fink III, 31, of Ligonier, and a passenger, Derrick Gifford, 21, of Greensburg, remained at a Johnstown hospital Wednesday. Both were expected to survive, Limani said, and neither had been charged with a crime or cited in connection with the crash.

Fink remained in serious condition and Gifford was stable, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

The Associated Press has not been able to contact the men or their families for comment.

The owner of the pool and spa business in Irwin, also along Route 30 some 25 miles west of the crash scene, has not returned repeated requests seeking comment.

Police haven’t said whether either man worked for the business, or why they may have been in the van.

Police planned to test blood drawn from Fink for drugs and alcohol. Although that’s commonly done after fatal crashes, police obtained a search warrant in this instance which wasn’t immediately available to the public.

Police have declined comment on anything found in the van or other evidence at the scene.


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