Police dog named Belk refused to leave his human partner's side after fatal head-on car accident

  • Lt Eric Eslary was killed Tuesday morning in a wrong-way driving crash in Ligonier, Pennsylvania 
  • K-9 partner Belk guarded his dying owner even as paramedics showed up on the scene 
  • It was only when Eslary's wife showed up at the scene that the German shepherd could be pried away   
  • The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but the driver of the other vehicle, Clair Fink III, has a history of DUI 

The bond between one police officer and his K-9 partner proved stronger than death. 

When Ligonier, Pennsylvania Police Lt Eric Eslary was killed in a devastating head-on car crash Tuesday morning, his dog Belk ran to this side and refused to leave. 

It was only when Eslary's wife Mary Beth arrived at the scene that the 6-year-old German shepherd was finally coaxed away so that paramedics could transport the fatally injured father-of-six to the hospital, where he died about an hour later.

'K-9s are trained to protect their partner,' Ligonier Township police Chief Michael Matrunics said. 'Obviously, it was a very, very difficult experience for everyone involved.'

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Partners to the end: Ligonier, Pennsylvania Township Police Officer Eric Eslary died Tuesday morning in a head-on crash. His K-9 partner Belk refused to leave his side. The two pictured above in a photo from February

Partners to the end: Ligonier, Pennsylvania Township Police Officer Eric Eslary died Tuesday morning in a head-on crash. His K-9 partner Belk refused to leave his side. The two pictured above in a photo from February

Wrong way: Eslary was driving around 2am on Tuesday when two men in a work van crashed into his police SUV head-on, while driving in the wrong lane 

Wrong way: Eslary was driving around 2am on Tuesday when two men in a work van crashed into his police SUV head-on, while driving in the wrong lane 

Recovering: Belk was seriously injured in the accident and had to undergo surgery. Veterinarians say he is in stable condition and may be released in the next day or two

Recovering: Belk was seriously injured in the accident and had to undergo surgery. Veterinarians say he is in stable condition and may be released in the next day or two

Blek was also seriously injured in the crash, and was taken to a veterinary hospital for surgery after Eslary's wife was able to pry him away from the body.

As of Tuesday, Blek's condition was stable and reporters for KDKA took video of veterinary workers taking the dog for a walk outside the hospital. In the video, Blek is seen struggling with his back legs.

'His condition is relatively stable, while he did have trouble with his back legs initially after the accident, he is able to bear weight and walk on them, so he is not paralyzed,' Dr. Megan Kaplan said in an interview with WPXI.

The veterianian says that if all goes well, Blek could go home in the next 24 to 48 hours. 

To show their support for one of their own, police officers from several different departments across the region are currently taking turns to hold vigil outside the animal hospital for Blek. Officers told KDKA that they will have at least one officer outside the clinic around the clock to support Blek while he recovers.

Tragic: Eslary leaves behind six children. Three of the children above are from his first marriage and the other three are from his wife Mary Beth's previous marriage 

Tragic: Eslary leaves behind six children. Three of the children above are from his first marriage and the other three are from his wife Mary Beth's previous marriage 

Mourning: Eslary and his wife were married in 2012. It was only when Mary Beth arrived on the scene Tuesday morning that Belk finally left his partner's body 

Mourning: Eslary and his wife were married in 2012. It was only when Mary Beth arrived on the scene Tuesday morning that Belk finally left his partner's body 

The crash happened around 2am Tuesday morning as Eslary was working the overnight shift with Blek. He had just crested a small hill when he crashed head-on with a van driving in the wrong lane.

Police are still investigating why driver Clair Fink III, 31, was driving the wrong way, where he was coming from and why he was in a work van late at night. 

Fink and passenger Derek Gifford, 21, were taken to the hospital where they were last reported in serious and fair condition, respectively. Blood samples are being collected from both men to test for alcohol or drugs in their system at the time of the crash.

Fink was driving a work can for Westmoreland Pools and Spas in Irwin, Pennsylvania, and that businesses's owner told WPXI later on Tuesday that he has no idea why Fink was driving the vehicle in the middle of the night.  

'I heard he had six kids...it's just a senseless thing that should never happen. I can't imagine the grief they're going through for that officer,' owner Gary Piviritto said.

While no charges have yet been filed in the crash, Fink has a noted history of DUI. 

The other car: Clair Fink III (pictured) was the driver of the other vehicle, and was charged in 2006 with drunk driving. Those charges were later dismissed through a rehab program. On the right is Fink's passenger Derek Gifford who also remains hospitalized after the crash
The other car: Clair Fink III was the driver of the other vehicle, and was charged in 2006 with drunk driving. Those charges were later dismissed through a rehab program. On the right is Fink's passenger Derek Gifford (pictured) who also remains hospitalized after the crash

The other car: Clair Fink III (left) was the driver of the other vehicle, and was charged in 2006 with drunk driving. Those charges were later dismissed through a rehab program. On the right is Fink's passenger Derek Gifford (right) who also remains hospitalized after the crash

Surviving: Clair Fink III, 31, was behind the wheel of the work van that ran into Eslary's police vehicle

Surviving: Clair Fink III, 31, was behind the wheel of the work van that ran into Eslary's police vehicle

Totaled: Above, a view of Eslary's smashed up police SUV as it was transported from the scene Tuesday morning 

Totaled: Above, a view of Eslary's smashed up police SUV as it was transported from the scene Tuesday morning 

No idea: Gary Piviritto is the owner of Westmoreland Pools and Spas, which owns the vehicle Fink was driving Tuesday morning. He says he doesn't know why Fink and Gifford were in the van late at night 

No idea: Gary Piviritto is the owner of Westmoreland Pools and Spas, which owns the vehicle Fink was driving Tuesday morning. He says he doesn't know why Fink and Gifford were in the van late at night 

According to court records, Fink was arrested for driving under the influence and had those charges dismissed two years later as part of a rehabilitation program. Then, in 2011, he pleaded guilty to a charge of public drunkenness.  

Eslary was a 17 year veteran of the Ligonier Township police department and had helped start the K-9 unit.  His first K-9 partner was named Ando, and when Ando died in 2009, he was replaced with Blek. 

'He took so much pride in developing the K-9 program here, and you better believe that Blek was the most beloved canine in the valley,' Chief Matrunics said.

They often worked the overnight shift together. During their time off, Eslary and his K-9 partner would train with other units in the region and give seminars to local schools where Blek was the main attraction.

'He often said it was his favorite part of the day,' assistant elementary school Principal Wayne Waugh said. 'The kids were able to talk to (Eslary) and ask him questions regarding Blek, and they became familiar with them both. You could see the enjoyment in (Eslary's) eyes, too.' 

Partners in law enforcement: Eslary started his police department's K-9 program. Blek was his second K-9 partner after his first, name Ando, died in 2009 

Partners in law enforcement: Eslary started his police department's K-9 program. Blek was his second K-9 partner after his first, name Ando, died in 2009 

Working together: Video from 2009 shows Eslary working with a K-9 partner. He often went to schools for demonstrations with his dog
Working together: Video from 2009 shows Eslary working with a K-9 partner. He often went to schools for demonstrations with his dog

Working together: Video from 2009 shows Eslary working with a K-9 partner. He often went to schools for demonstrations with his dog

And Tuesday wasn't the first time that Blek guarded his partner viciously. 

At Eslary's wedding in 2012,  Reverent Dr J Paul McCracken said Blek came after him when he tried to shake Eslary's hand after the ceremony. Thankfully, Eslary issued a command that had the dog stop in his tracks and sit down patiently. 

'His partner, Blek, is a fully protective of Eric,' Chief Matrunics said. 'When I would walk near the car, even though Blek’s been with me, smelled me, I got to spend time with him, Blek still would bark like crazy when I would step next to the car.'

Eslary also grew up in the area, spending his childhood on a family farm and attending the same public schools as the ones his own children now attend. 

He's a well-known member of the community as not only a police officer but as a mason, assistant youth softball coach and former volunteer firefighter.

In fact, longtime Police Chief Michael DiRinaldo believes Eslary and the driver who killed him, Fink, may have overlapped some of their time working as volunteer firefighters. 

However, DiRinaldo told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Fink left the department after just two months following a drunk-driving charge. 

In 2012, married Mary Beth Taylor and the two blended their families, each with three children from previous marriages.  

On Tuesday, dozens of local police vehicles escorted Eslary's body to the funeral home. 

He will be laid to rest in a ceremony scheduled for Saturday.    

Tribute: Dozens of police vehicles escorted Eslary's body Tuesday morning. A funeral has been scheduled for Saturday

Tribute: Dozens of police vehicles escorted Eslary's body Tuesday morning. A funeral has been scheduled for Saturday

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