Allegheny County police investigate out-of-state company that hired worker charged in fatal accident
Allegheny County police said Monday they are investigating an out-of-state company that hired a Kentucky worker they say is responsible for causing a fatal accident on Route 28.
County police Lt. Andrew Schurman declined to identify the company that Eric Gonzalez-Huerta, 23, was working for Friday in Ford City when he hauled construction debris to a McKees Rocks landfill. Police say a wheel from his utility trailer detached on the busy highway, bounced over the median and crashed through the windshield of Robert Lofink, 75, of Hampton, killing him instantly.
Police charged Gonzalez-Huerta of Louisville with four criminal counts and identified him as an illegal immigrant. He remains in the Allegheny County jail on $250,000 bail. His preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 2.
“Obviously, he was an unlicensed driver with no insurance. Is there accountability and culpability? We have to look into the law and the guidelines,” Schurman said. “It’s an ongoing aspect of the investigation. … He was contracted (with a company).”
Schurman said police reported the arrest to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency said in a statement that it is aware of Gonzalez-Huerta being held but had not confirmed that he is here illegally.
Gonzalez-Huerta’s driving and vehicle history is a hodgepodge spread across four states. He bought his Ford F-450 pickup in Rock Hill, S.C., and registered it in North Carolina in November 2011. That registration expired in November 2012 when he failed to get the vehicle inspected, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
“He’s been driving with bad tags for two years,” Smith said.
Smith said Gonzalez-Huerta was granted registration because he had a valid New Mexico driver’s license at the time.
New Mexico officials could not immediately confirm whether the license was previously valid, but said illegal immigrants may obtain a driver’s license there if they can show they live in the state.
Gonzalez-Huerta’s trailer was registered in Kentucky. Transportation officials there did not return calls seeking information about the trailer’s registration status.
Rich Barcaskey, executive director of the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania, said contractors doing work with government agencies must verify workers are legal via an online records check. Private contractors verify their workers the same way as other employers, with an I-9 form, in which potential employees must provide identification.
“People think you can’t get a driver’s license without being a citizen. That’s not the case (for all states),” Barcaskey said.
Gonzalez-Huerta told police he didn’t notice the tire was missing until he stopped in McKees Rocks, according to a criminal complaint.
Police said a man driving behind him on Route 28 told officers he saw the tire come off a trailer with a black tarp hauled by a white Ford F-450. The witness followed the truck to the McKees Rocks Bridge.
Officers stopped Gonzalez-Huerta on Route 28 northbound during his return trip to Ford City, heading toward the scene, about 90 minutes after the accident. His trailer was missing one of two tires on the passenger side.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].