Disappearance of Eric Haider: Family searches for answers

Published: Nov. 23, 2016 at 5:04 PM CST
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A construction worker who went missing from a work site in 2012 was found three years later, buried where he had originally gone missing.

May 21, 2015, answered many questions for Eric Haider’s family and opened up the door for dozens more.

"We want to know what happened that day,” said Dan Suchan, Haider's stepfather.

Private investigators hired by the Suchans found his body with the use of cadaver dogs.

Investigators found Haider’s body less than 10 feet away from where police originally dug in 2012.

Police narratives state:

"The body faced a water pipeline, the same one Eric’s crew was installing at the time of his disappearance.”

He was found in a crouched position with his wallet, work helmet and several other items.

In the autopsy, pathologists stated:

“Positioning of the body at the time of excavation is suggestive of the decedent working on a pipe at the time of demise.”

His pacemaker indicated his death was around 12:19 p.m. on May 24, 2012, which is five minutes after coworkers started backfilling a hole that day.

The cause of death? Left undetermined.

“Because we couldn’t tell those differences; whether he died from the burial, whether he died before, whether he was incapacitated, we left it undetermined,“ said Dr. Mary Ann Sens, University of North Dakota pathologist.

Shortly after Haider was found, Dickinson Police contacted his former coworkers. It was now a criminal investigation.

They narrowed it down to two men who were backfilling the ditch the day Haider went missing.

The department was able to interview one of them, but the other remained silent and contacted his attorney.

“Throughout the course of this investigation, we tried to keep all the scopes, all the theories, the potential scenarios open and on the table," said Detective Sgt. Kylan Klauzer, Dickinson Police Department.

By the time Haider’s body was found, too much time had passed.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration could not investigate the case because the statute of limitations had expired. But, some still had their suspicions.

Compliance Officer Scott Overson called the case “very odd”. In a conversation with police, he said he was:

“Concerned about the incident, and the unlikelihood that it was accidental,” based on previous work experience.

Overson thought there was “negligence on part of the employees and Coffel Construction.

After a few months of investigating, Dickinson Police forwarded information to Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning

But for the Suchans, Henning’s answer wasn’t the one they wanted either.

“As I understand it from the investigators, we don’t have a suspect we could say, this is the person who is likely responsible.” said Henning.

The two men backfilling the ditch the day Haider was buried could have been charged with manslaughter or gross negligence.

But Henning says there isn’t enough circumstantial evidence to charge one of the men.

“In this instance, I don’t know that either operator can tell you if for sure it wasn’t them. And for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, I can’t put them up there and tell the jury to pick," saidHenning​.

He decided to close the case and declined to file criminal charges. ​

An independent workforce safety investigation concluded that Haider’s death was a workplace death.

The mother of Haider’s daughter is being compensated by Workforce Safety, but the family has never received any other compensation.

They continue to search for closure, but say monetary compensation can’t replace what they’ve lost.

“It’s the most empty, lonely, crazy life,” said Mary Ellen Suchan, Haider's mom.

Mary Ellen continues to sell at vendor shows to raise money for legal fees. She says she wants Cofell to take responsibility for the death of her son, and the loss of a father.

“She’ll never have her dad back. To watch her graduate, or walk her down the aisle when she wants to marry or hold her children on his lap. I want justice, and I’m not going to quit. I’m not going to give up.” said Mary Ellen.

In North Dakota, the statute of limitations for manslaughter and negligent homicide expires after three years.