Boy killed by runaway construction truck in Hillsborough identified

Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Man charged after runaway truck kills boy
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William Everett Copeland, 5, was struck and killed by a driverless runaway truck in his own yard.

HILLSBOROUGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Heartbreaking 911 calls released Tuesday shed new light on what happened Monday afternoon when a runaway construction truck barreled down a hill in Hillsborough, killing a 5-year-old boy.

ABC11 will not air the calls due to their graphic nature and out of respect to the family.

The transcript, however, shows an obviously stunned father of William Everett Copeland telling a 911 operator that "a truck hit my child."

In another call, an upset, shocked, and angry neighbor is heard asking others about the identity of the driver.

The construction truck came loose and rolled down a hill

Investigators confirm the accident took place on Dogwood Bloom Lane in Hillsborough's Forest Ridge subdivision, a new neighborhood not far from U.S. 70, where homes under construction are mixed with finished ones.

The developer, Crescent Communities, says Forest Ridge will have about 230 homes, and only about 50 of them are completed now.

Just before 1 p.m., construction crews were loading the back of the truck when it started rolling. No one was inside the cab when it started gaining speed down the hill, through a front yard, a driveway, and then a garage door.

A group of children was playing in the driveway and the 5-year-old boy - who went by the name of Everett - couldn't get out of the way. The truck hit him before crashing into the home. Neighbors said a doctor who lives in the neighborhood ran over to help; she performed CPR until emergency crews arrived.

Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton said Everett was rushed to Duke University Hospital, but did not survive.

Alejandro Suarez, 28, of Angier, is charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. Police said he was responsible for the control of the vehicle. He was taken to the Orange County Jail and is being held on a $10,000 bond.

Alejandro Suarez
image courtesy Orange County Sheriff's Office

According to North Carolina law, if found guilty, Suarez's misdemeanor death by motor vehicle charge could result in jail time of up to 60 days if this is his first conviction. The penalty also comes with a fine, which will be at the discretion of the court and likely under $1,000.

Even though Suarez was not behind the wheel of the truck as it struck the boy, he was named as the responsible party. A legal expert says the court can find Suarez responsible of gross negligence.

"At this point, we don't believe the vehicle was properly secured," said Chief Hampton. "We will also be following up the investigation, looking at the mechanical condition of the vehicle and confirming all of the working relationships, regarding specifically which company the crew was working for."

As for Suarez and his employer, investigators concede there are many layers of responsibility when it comes to construction. The land developer, Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, sells lots to several home builders and designers. Those designers then hire several companies tailored individually to their trades: plumbing, electric, roofing, siding, kitchen, bath, and more.

In a statement to ABC11, Crescent Communities spokesman Tony Wilbert said:

Crescent Communities is saddened by the accident and child's death today at the Forest Ridge community in Hillsborough. The accident involved construction equipment operated by a contractor hired by one of the community's homebuilders. Because Hillsborough police have charged another company's employee in the death, Crescent cannot comment on the actual events or criminal case. We are closely monitoring the situation and cooperating with authorities. Crescent cannot express strongly enough our sympathies for the child's family and friends.

Wilbert later sent an update to ABC11, asserting that Suarez was not hired by Crescent or any of its affiliates, and thus was hired by one of the companies down the chain. Crescent management is also working with local officials to halt all construction work out of respect to the family and the ongoing investigation.

Calls to several developers currently into construction in the Forest Ridge community went unanswered Tuesday and emails were not returned.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe page for the boy's parents to help with funeral expenses.

ABC11's DeJuan Hoggard contributed to this report.

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