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Deadly Highway Hazard: 9 calls made to 911 before semi struck highway equipment, couple killed

Nine emergency phone calls were made and two rescue operations were completed by authorities. It was not enough to save the lives of two young truck drivers who drove straight to their deaths.

The crash happened in the early morning hours of December 21, 2017. Patrick Van Fossen, 24, was behind the wheel of his semi-truck. He was recently engaged to 24-year-old Keserie Paredes, resting in the truck’s back cabin. The young couple were truck drivers working as a team.

Patrick Van Fossen was traveling eastbound on Interstate 10 in Far East El Paso, when he crashed into a large piece of construction equipment sticking four feet out onto the highway’s inside lane. ABC-7’s Christina Aguayo reconstructed the events of the wreck that night using never before released 911 tapes and pages of 911 call logs in order to understand what went wrong.

According to an eyewitness, Jean Beck, Van Fossen was driving on the inside lane of I-10 and another semi-truck was traveling in the middle lane. Beck said she wasn’t sure if Van Fossen didn’t see the piece of construction equipment, or if he was simply unable to maneuver his truck out of the way because the lane next to his was occupied.

Beck said that as soon as the truck hit the construction equipment, it veered to the right of the highway, where she was standing with her husband and other drivers who had partially hit the piece of construction equipment minutes before the deadly crash involving the young couple.

The impact of the crash ripped the cabin off the truck, throwing Keserie Paredes out of the semi. “The person in that bed didn’t know what hit them,” said Jean Beck, “(She) went to bed to go to sleep and take a break and their life was over.”

Beck told ABC 7’s Christina Aguayo she was asleep in the back of her husband’s semi truck while her husband was driving. “He swerved to (avoid) the piece of construction equipment, but it still hit the side mirror on our truck. We pulled to the side of the highway and called 911,” Beck said, “When (Van Fossen’s) truck hit the construction equipment, it veered straight towards us, we had to jump over the cement blockers on the highway to get out of the way.”

“It was the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I was not prepared for that,” said Beck.

Kerry Paredes, Kaserie’s mother, was called by an unnamed witness who reportedly told her more about what happened that night. “The details of the accident were just horrific. It gave me nightmares for a long time, just imagining it,” said Kerry Paredes, who told ABC-7 she spoke with her daughter numerous times a day. The grieving mother said life without her daughter has been nearly impossible. “It has been very lonely. It has been very hard. There is no replacement for a child lost,” the mother said.

Michelle Van Fossen, Patrick’s mother, told ABC-7’s Christina Aguayo that losing Patrick has been one of the most difficult events she has ever had to deal with. “Patrick Van Vossen was my second child and my only son,” said Michelle.

A review of hundreds of pages of 911 call logs and emergency calls placed with authorities, ABC 7’s Christina Aguayo learned nine out of the eleven 911 calls placed to authorities were made before the crash happened.

Calls started pouring into emergency dispatch once again at 2:06 am on December 21, 2017. “A construction vehicle that is coming out of the construction zone,” said a caller identified as Daniel S. when asked what his emergency was.

Ten minutes later at 2:16 a.m., caller Jesus L. warned dispatch “somebody is gonna get killed right there.”

A minute later, Francisco H. told dispatch, “If two trucks are going together, your going to have an accident there, very bad.” The dispatcher is heard responding, “Okay, so we’ll go ahead and notify units and get them out (there) okay.”

What witnesses were seeing was a GoMaco 9500 Cement placer. It was being used by JAR Construction, a locally owned construction company in El Paso. Jar Construction was contracted by TxDOT to widen I-10. Somehow, the rear conveyor shifted out onto the interstate.

Michelle Van Fossen, Patrick’s mother, expressed confusion on how the piece of equipment ended up sticking four feet out onto the highway. “Why was that piece of equipment on the highway? I mean, there are supposed to be security chains. I don’t understand that,” she said.

Kerry Paredes, Kaserie’s mother, told ABC-7’s Christina Aguayo the equipment should have been secured in a safe manner. “Anybody who has any kind of basic tractor experience knows not to leave your tractor dump in an upright position when you turn it off,” she said.

Jean Beck said her husband called 911 at 2:19 a.m., moments after semi-truck truck was struck by the piece of equipment. “My husband pulled to the right side of the highway to see what damage was done to the truck and to figure out what it was we hit.”

“Were on Interstate 10 East Bound. Something has hit our truck,” Beck’s husband is heard telling the operator in the 911 call.

At 2:21 a.m., a police unit was dispatched to the area, but the officer was directed to go to Westbound I-10, the wrong side of the highway. That search came back empty.

Beck called 911 a second time when she and her husband were able to identify the object that hit their truck. “I just called from I-10. We found out what hit our truck, it’s a crane in that road construction,” Beck is heard saying in the call to 911.

Additional calls to 911 were made at around the same time. One man, standing on the side of the highway, was trying to warn people of the danger. He was yelling “Be careful! Be careful!”

According to call log records, at the time of Jean Beck’s second 911 call, it had been more than an hour since the first 911 call was placed to report the equipment. Three units had been dispatched during that time and two searches conducted.

Kerry Paredes said she keeps asking herself why it took so long for police to arrive and find the highway hazard. “I have questioned the police response time from the beginning, you know, the police, and not that they’ve been unkind, but one of the things they volunteered to me is that they got the wrong directions from somebody,” said Kerry.

At 2:36 a.m., Jean Beck called 911 a third time, warning dispatchers of the danger. “Is somebody going to get someone out here? This is a very dangerous situation,” Beck is heard saying in the call.

Within minutes, the highway hazard claimed two lives.

At 2:39 am, 911 operators received a fifth call from Jean Beck informing them a crash occurred on that exact stretch of highway. “Oh My God! Okay. Somebody’s hurt now really bad! I’ve done called 911 five times, they need an ambulance!”

Questions about what caused the conveyor to move out onto the interstate remain unanswered. Jean Beck said she spoke with officers after the crash and they were trying to determine what went wrong. “One of the DOT (Department of Transportation) officers that came out and talked to my husband said ‘there’s no hydraulic fluid anywhere, so there’s no leak. And they went home between 5:00 and 5:30 in the afternoon, so there is no way that that equipment was left the way it was,'” Beck recalled the official saying.

“Could someone have moved the equipment? Maybe the equipment malfunctioned? Were authorities not able to see the hazard on the highway? These are all questions that need to be answered,” said Kerry Paredes, who asks “How do you keep this from happening to someone else?”

The questions could be answered at the El Paso County Courthouse. ABC 7’s Christiina Aguayo has confirmed the police department has turned the case over to the District Attorney for possible criminal charges.

Paredes is pleading for answers. “I just want people to be accountable for their actions, I don’t think its too much to ask. Pretend like you’re a human being and you have a family,” she said.

JAR Construction and GoMaco – the company who makes the piece of equipment that was out on the highway – both declined to comment for this story. Because this is an ongoing investigation, neither the El Paso Police Department or the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is able to speak about the case.

The families of the two victims have filed a civil suit against JAR Construction. That lawsuit is on hold until the criminal case is resolved. According to court documents, the families are accusing JAR Construction of Gross Negligence.

As for the Texas Department of Transportation’s responsibility in the crash, the state agency provided ABC-7’s Christina Aguayo with a statement: “The work site is under the control of the contractor on a TxDOT project. TxDOT provides money, plans, and specifications, and our control/involvement is limited to what is in the plans and specifications.”

And in terms of any investigation, TxDOT added, “Because we do not have expertise in collision investigation, we leave that to the professionals in law enforcement.”

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