Dump truck operator pleads no contest in Hillsborough boy's death
Posted February 20
Hillsborough, N.C. — A Harnett County man pleaded no contest Monday to a misdemeanor charge after his unattended dump truck ran over a Hillsborough boy the day after Christmas.
Five-year-old Everett Copeland was playing outside his home with three other children on Dec. 26 when he was hit and killed by the truck, which rolled away from a home construction site at the top of Dogwood Bloom Lane in the Forest Ridge subdivision.
"It continues to devastate our family," Everett's father, Bill Copeland, said in court as he fought back tears. "Never again will we hold him, laugh with him or hug him. Never again will our family be whole."
Alejandro Suarez, 28, of 287 Spider Lily Lane in Angier, left his truck running in neutral, but he told first responders he had set the brake only to see the truck rolling down the hill. An arrest warrant charging him with misdemeanor death by vehicle states the truck was left unattended and that Suarez failed to effectively secure the parking brake.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said a mechanic checked the truck recently and told authorities that he believes the brakes were engaged when Suarez got out on Dec. 26. The mechanic said that, as the truck, which doesn't have a park position, was loaded with dirt from the construction site, the load became too heavy for the brakes to hold, Woodall said.
Suarez had gotten out of the truck to go to the bathroom, Woodall said, and he and other workers tried to catch the truck but couldn't.
"This was a human error," defense attorney Bill Young said outside of court. "Mr. Suarez is a human and feels horrible like any human whose massive mistake would have resulted in this kind of tragic outcome."
Bill Copeland said the accident was easily preventable. He and his family have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Suarez; Apex-based Kala Contracting, which had hired him; and Amward Homes of N.C., the general contractor for the construction site and owner of the property.
"I hope everybody’s careful. I think this is one of those events that happens, and then we look back on it and say, 'How did it happen?'" Woodall said outside of court. "It could’ve been prevented at many different points along the way."
District Judge Samantha Cabe sentenced Suarez to 65 days in jail – the maximum penalty for misdemeanor death by vehicle in 75 days behind bars – and since he has been in jail for a month and a half, he will be released on Feb. 28.
"(The Copeland family) wanted him to be held responsible to the degree the law could," Woodall said. "We all understand, and they understand, that no one will be ever held responsible to the degree of loss. That’s impossible. But they wanted him to be held responsible."
Federal immigration authorities will take custody of Suarez, who faces deportation because he is in the country illegally, after his sentence is finished.
Young said Suarez came to the U.S. from Mexico 11 years ago to earn money to support his family.