Owner of Ligonier sanitation company vows to fight lawsuit filed by late trooper's parents
The owner of a Ligonier sanitation company sued for wrongful death by parents of a Pennsylvania state trooper who died a year ago when his marked patrol vehicle slammed into a garbage truck in Ligonier Township vowed Tuesday to fight in court.
“It ticks me off that we were found to haven’t done anything wrong … cleared by an extensive state police investigation … and yet we’re still sued,” said John McInchok, owner of McInchok Sanitation. “I haven’t received a copy of the lawsuit yet, but we definitely will defend ourselves.”
Michael P. Stewart Jr. and Lynn Stewart, parents of Trooper Michael P. Stewart III, 26, of Unity, this month filed a lawsuit in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court seeking unspecified civil damages against McInchok Sanitation and truck driver John Hissem Jr. of Ligonier.
McInchok said he feels sorrow for Stewart’s family over the tragedy, “but how can they sue me when it was proven the trooper was in the wrong?” he asked.
Attorney Ryan Hurd of Philadelphia, who represents the Stewarts, declined comment on McInchok’s contention that the lawsuit lacks merit as a result of the state police probe.
“We do not comment on active litigation,” Hurd said. “Facts will be fleshed out during discovery.”
A state police investigation absolved Hissem of wrongdoing, and no charges or citations were filed against him. But the Stewarts’ 17-page lawsuit contends Hissem was “careless” and “inattentive” when he pulled out on Route 711 north of Ligonier about 2:20 a.m. July 14, 2017.
Hissem should have used a safer path onto the highway from the parking lot of Forks Inn Restaurant that “would provide greater visibility,” the lawsuit contends.
State police reported Stewart and his passenger, Trooper Travis November, were traveling south when their SUV crashed into the driver’s side of the truck as it made a left turn out of a parking lot to head north on Route 711. Investigators determined the patrol unit was at fault and that the crash involved a number of factors, including speed, sight distance, a wet road and fog.
McInchok said news reports citing claims in the lawsuit that Hissem was not properly trained and the truck had mechanical issues are “completely false.”
“State police took my truck, went over it with a fine-tooth comb for problems, and it came through with flying colors with no deficiencies,” he said. “And my driver was interviewed and volunteered to have his blood tested and he was found to be clean… The state police determined the accident was caused by the trooper speeding.”
McInchok confirmed a civil lawsuit filed last year by November against his company was recently dropped.
“I received notice from the November’s attorney last month that they were dropping the lawsuit after they received information from state police that (Stewart) was at fault,” McInchok said.
November’s attorney, Kenneth Nolan of Edgar Snyder & Associates in Pittsburgh, has not returned calls seeking comment..
Although the Stewarts’ lawsuit does not give a specific damage estimate, it indicates they are seeking in excess of $200,000 for the mental suffering both have endured as a result of their son’s death, plus the loss of the earning capacity he would have received if he completed his career as a state trooper and punitive damages.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, email@example.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.