LIGONIER TOWNSHIP (KDKA) - A Ligonier Township police officer was killed in a head-on crash along Route 30 early Tuesday morning.
Lt. Eric Eslary wasn't just a 17-year veteran of the Ligonier Township Police Department - he was like family.
Lt. Eslary grew up with the chiefs of police in both Ligonier Township and Ligonier Borough.
"When I, uh, came out to that call last night, in 23 years, I never want to see that again cause that's the hardest call I've ever gone on," Ligonier Borough Police Chief John Berger said.
Just before 2 a.m., 40-year-old Eslary and his K-9, Blek, were patrolling on Route 30 west, near Clark Hollow Road.
As they crested a hill, they were hit head-on by a van being driven by 31-year-old Clair Fink, who was traveling the wrong way.
"The Ligonier Twp. officer was traveling in the correct lanes of Route 30 and the vehicle that struck him was driving westbound on that divided highway," Tpr. Steve Limani said.
Fink, who's from Ligonier, had a 21-year-old passenger, Derek Gifford with him.
State police are investigating the specifics of why Fink was driving east in the westbound lane.
Both Fink and Gifford were taken to Conemaugh Hospital. Fink is in critical condition, while Gifford's injures are not believed to be life-threatening.
Lt. Eslary was transported to the Excela Latrobe Emergency Department, where he was later pronounced dead. According to police, Eslary was wearing a seatbelt and the airbags deployed in the vehicle.
No previous call to 911 about a wrong way driver were made. Anyone with information about the accident is being asked to call State Police in Greensburg.
The K-9, bonded to his partner, refused to leave the lieutenant's side. Eslary's wife. Mary Beth, had to go to the scene to help officers get the dog to the veterinarian.
"I transported her from the scene to the hospital this morning. Her and her son. Me and her both had problems trying to keep sense of this, but she did a great job keeping composure. Doing the right thing," Ligonier Township Police Chief Michael Matrunics said.
As of noon, Blek was said to be doing better and officials were hoping surgery would not be required.
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Officers escorted Eslary's body to Carlow University, where an autopsy was conducted by Dr. Cyril Wecht. The Westmoreland County Office released further details late Tuesday night, saying the autopsy determined Eslary died of blunt force injuries to the head, chest and extremities.
Route 30 was shut down in both directions near Idlewild Park, but has since reopened.
State Police had a reconstruction team at the scene trying to piece together how this accident happened.
Lt. Eslary will be laid to rest on Saturday. Visitation has been scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the McCracken Funeral Chapel in Ligonier from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. His funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, also in Ligonier.
Lt. Eslary is survived by his wife and six children.
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