Man charged in boy’s Hillsborough death makes first court appearance

First responders at the scene on Dogwood Bloom Lane in Hillsborough where a truck fatally injured a child and crashed into a home on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016.
First responders at the scene on Dogwood Bloom Lane in Hillsborough where a truck fatally injured a child and crashed into a home on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. Durham Herald-Sun

Recordings of 911 calls reveal a frantic scene in which a neighbor administered CPR to try to save a boy who had been hit Monday by a construction truck. The man accused of leaving the truck unattended made his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon.

Alejandro Suarez, 28, of Angier is charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle in Everett Copeland’s death. Suarez is accused of leaving the truck running unattended in the under-construction Forest Ridge subdivision and not effectively securing the parking brake.

Everett was outside on Dogwood Bloom Lane when the truck full of dirt rolled, struck him and crashed into a house.

Bill Young, a Raleigh-based attorney who is representing Suarez, said his client is “soul-crushing disturbed by even being remotely connected, if he is, to something like this. I think he has been very cooperative.”

Suarez told police he is not a U.S. citizen, Hillsborough town spokesman Jonathan Rickard said Wednesday. Suarez told them he is a Mexican citizen.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a detainer Monday for Suarez. The agency said Suarez was in the country illegally and had a 2009 conviction for driving under the influence.

The detainer would allow federal officials to take Suarez into custody before being released on bail, but ICE spokesman Thomas Byrd would not speak more specifically on Suarez’s case.

Three 911 calls placed after the incident reveal an emotional scene in which Everett’s mother tried to comfort him and a doctor performed CPR.

“Mommy’s right here. ... I’ve always loved you,” the mother can be heard saying in one call to Orange County Emergency Services.

In another call, an unidentified male tells a dispatcher that a truck “hit my child.” When asked whether the boy was conscious, the caller said, “No. No ... no.”

The boy’s mother told a dispatcher during one call, “I think he’s dead.”

A third 911 caller cried and cursed, saying “a car came through our yard and hit a little boy.” She also said a neighbor who is a doctor was performing CPR and that Everett, who lived with his parents, a twin sister and a younger sister, had a pulse.

Contractor unknown

Police are working to identify the company Suarez was working for. Typically, homebuilders and developers hire contractors to do work for them.

Rickard, the town spokesman, said construction workers provided a company name, and paperwork was found in the truck. But police have not spoken to anyone at the company, and Rickard would not name the company.

The truck is registered to a private party, Rickard said. Police don’t know if there is a connection between the owner of the truck and the work it was being used for at the subdivision.

Crescent Communities, the developer of the Forest Ridge subdivision, is trying to determine which of its four homebuilders hired the contractor that was working Monday.

“The accident involved construction equipment operated by a contractor hired by one of the community’s homebuilders,” Crescent spokesman Tony Wilbert said in a statement.

Wilbert said Crescent could not comment about specifics of the case because it involves another company’s employee.

Construction in the neighborhood has been halted “for the time being,” he said.

“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 said.

Rickard said a police report from the incident won’t be available for several days.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said further investigation might not lead to more criminal charges. Under state law, it can be tough to prove criminal intent when it comes to companies or corporations, he said.

“And this is a case where there is no question that this was not intentional. This was a completely unintentional event,” Woodall said. “So the question becomes, was there negligence that rises to such a level that it takes the place of criminal intent.

“The law only allows that in a few certain circumstances so there, ultimately, may not be a criminal charge here, but that is why you investigate – to make sure there is evidence to support the charge.”

Family support

Outside the home where Everett was killed, a memorial features flowers and candles.

A GoFundMe page called “Love for Everett Copeland” had raised more than $16,700 by Wednesday evening, collecting donations from more than 230 people. The campaign’s goal was to raise $10,000.

Ashleigh Sanzone of Hillsborough, who knows Everett’s parents, Bill and Ashley, created the fundraiser. In one update, Sanzone said the couple were thankful for the outpouring of support.

“They are broken but finding comfort in the kindness of family, friends and strangers alike,” she wrote.

Suarez, who was jailed in lieu of $10,000 bail, is set to appear in court again Jan. 9.

Young, the attorney representing Suarez, said his client is “a really awesome person.”

“He has an incredible family and support system,” he said.

Woodall said the situation is “hard to fathom.”

“Any time anyone gets killed when it’s a situation like this, it’s horrible,” he said. “But a 5-year-old boy and the day after Christmas... it’s just a tragedy and I’m so sorry for his family.”

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett

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