Special Reports

Deadly 2017 El Paso I-10 crash investigation closed; Victims' parents sue construction firm

ABC-7 Special Report examines crash accountability

Sudden Impact Part 2 ABC7 I team gets...

EL PASO, Texas - A criminal investigation into a violent crash on I-10 in December 2017 is closed, and no charges were filed related to the deaths of Patrick Van Fossen, 24, and Fossen's 22-year-old fiancee, Keserie Paredes.

The couple was killed after the semi-truck driven by Van Fossen slammed into a piece of construction equipment. The police investigation found that the equipment, which was being used by local company JAR Construction in the work zone on I-10 in Far East El Paso, was protruding over the eastbound driving lanes.

An El Paso Police Department spokesman told ABC-7 that no charges were filed and the department did not present the case to the district attorney.

As ABC-7 investigates who, if anyone, will be held accountable for the lost lives and what's being done to improve safety along I-10, ABC-7 obtained the results of the police investigation file through an open records request.

The documents showed that police officers arrived at the scene shortly after the deadly crash occurred. Officers recorded interviews with witnesses, some of whom ABC-7 learned had called 911 in the hour leading up to the crash to report the piece of construction equipment jutting into the lanes.

"We saw the truck hit, and he hit another truck that kept going, and we all took off running when we saw him out of control, to get out of the way," said Jean Beck. Beck was the passenger in a truck driven by her husband, John Beck, who also told police that he had almost hit the equipment moments earlier.

"I believe it was halfway out in the middle of the lane," Beck said. "I might be wrong, but that's what it looked like."

According to documents from the Texas Department of Transportation, that equipment was being used by JAR Construction, the El Paso-based company hired to work on that stretch of I-10.

Police recorded cellphone video of the crash site. They captured the mangled semi and the trail of debris littered across the freeway after the deadly impact.

The spokesman for the El Paso Police Department said he couldn't speak specifically about the case, but Sgt. Enrique "Kiki" Carrillo told ABC-7 that, generally, police turn cases over to the district attorney's office when there is evidence or probable cause of criminal intent or negligence.

In videos from the police investigation, an officer can be heard interviewing two TxDOT inspectors. They said they had stopped by the construction site three hours before the deadly incident and had looked at the equipment in question.

"We made two or three rounds," said inspector David Rubio. "(We) never observed the conveyor belt out in the lane."

Guillermo Bailon was interviewed separately, but his statement concurred with Rubio's. Bailon also said, "At the time I saw it, it was in the upright position."

"Was it up, or was it on the ground?" the officer was heard asking Rubio. "It was up, definitely up," he responded.

Those statements contradict the statement by JAR Construction's superintendent who supervised the site until crews stopped work at 4:30 p.m. the day before the crash.

In the officer's interview video with Apribitivo Soto, the officer is heard asking in Spanish, "So, how do you guys secure the machine before leaving?" Soto said, "To make sure it's secure, the conveyor belt is put flat on the floor and the entire machine gets turned off completely."

ABC-7 uncovered that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, found numerous safety violations at the site. Those violations include unrestricted access to the site and keys left in the equipment's ignition.

But OSHA said in its safety inspection report that it has no jurisdiction over accidents involving semis on interstate highways and isn't citing JAR for those deficiencies and safety hazards.

ABC-7 confirmed that the parents of Van Fossen and Paredes are pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against JAR, saying JAR is, "liable for negligence and gross negligence" by allowing construction equipment to hang over the median.

While JAR and its attorney did not respond to ABC-7's numerous in-person and phone call requests for comment in the five months that ABC-7 has been investigating this story, JAR did lay out its defense to the pending civil suit last June.

Those court documents, obtained by ABC-7, show JAR is blaming, "the acts of an unknown person ..." saying, "a 'John Doe' ... criminally trespassed onto the construction site ...(and) tampered with the concrete placer, leaving the conveyor belt protruding onto I-10."

Records show the case is expected to be heard in court on Oct. 1, leaving a jury to determine who will be held responsible for the deaths of two young people on I-10.

The ABC-7 I-team contacted half a dozen local, state and federal agencies to find out who's working to make sure a crash such as this doesn't happen again, and most point to one agency that gave us a surprising answer.

Look for Stephanie Valle's third part in this special report on Wednesday on ABC-7 at 10 p.m.

comments powered by Disqus

Recommended Stories

Most Popular Stories