The family of a boy killed by a runaway dump truck in December filed a civil lawsuit Monday in Orange County Superior Court against the man charged with failing to secure the truck and the construction companies building the subdivision.
Everett Copeland, 5, was killed Dec. 26 while playing in the driveway of his Hillsborough home. The construction truck was parked but running when it rolled away as it was being loaded with dirt and down a hill in the Forest Ridge subdivision. The truck hit Everett and crashed into a retaining wall, a car and the house.
The damage to the house was so extensive that portions had to be demolished and rebuilt, the lawsuit states. Everett’s parents, William and Ashley Copeland, rushed outside after the crash, it states, where Ashley Copeland tried to comfort her son, while William Copeland and a neighbor attempted to revive him.
The lawsuit names Alejandro Suarez, 28, of Angier, who was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. Hillsborough police determined Suarez left the truck running while it was being loaded with dirt and failed to fully secure the parking brake.
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Suarez, a Mexican citizen in the country illegally, remains in the Orange County jail and is under a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainment order. Federal officers have said Suarez has a 2009 conviction for driving under the influence.
The lawsuit states Suarez had no experience operating trucks and did not have a driver’s license.
“This man was unqualified and untrained to safely operate this truck, and his employers knew that and should never have allowed an unoccupied truck to be loaded so unsafely,” said David Kirby of Edwards Kirby, one of two Raleigh law firms, along with Holt Sherlin, representing the family. “This was an entirely preventable tragedy.”
The lawsuit also names Crescent Communities LLC and Crescent Hillsborough LLC, which are developing the subdivision, and Kala Contracting Inc. of Apex, which was responsible for the truck and had hired Suarez. Other defendants include Kala Contracting owners Carrie Ward and Gary Ward, and Amward Homes of N.C., the project’s general contractor and the property owner.
Everett’s parents released a statement Monday thanking the community for its support, including Hillsborough and Orange County First Responders and Duke Hospital medical providers. Everett died from his injuries at the hospital.
“We are committed to honoring Everett and his memory in any way we can,” the statement said. “This includes making sure there is a full accounting of how he lost his life while playing with his friends in the yard on the day after Christmas. This knowledge cannot bring our Everett back to us, but it may ensure this type of tragedy is not visited upon another family or innocent child.”
A GoFundme page set up to help the family pay for Everett’s funeral and other financial needs exceeded its $10,000 goal.
Crescent Communities also issued a statement Monday afternoon in response to the lawsuit.
“While we are saddened by the tragic loss of a child’s life and continue to keep the family in our thoughts and prayers, we cannot comment on pending litigation,” Crescent Communities spokesman Tony Wilbert said. “We are continuing to cooperate with the authorities and all involved parties as requested.”
Suarez is expected to appear in court for a hearing Feb. 20. Kirby said he plans to interview Suarez on Feb. 16, because ICE agents will be taking him for deportation proceedings once the criminal charge is resolved.