PORT VUE, Pa. — Family members of a man hit by a train nearly 30 years ago said they have many unanswered questions about the death.
Michael Hornfeck was hit by a train in Port Vue on Sept. 26, 1993. He died at the hospital. The coroner initially ruled his death a suicide but months later changed it to undetermined. It remains undetermined today.
Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle spoke with two of Hornfeck’s sisters. They told Earle they have a lot of questions about the timeline leading up to their brother’s death.
The sisters took Earle to the tracks where their brother was struck.
“I’ve always thought it would be too painful. I’ve avoided this area. It’s very tough to know that he didn’t know those were the last moments of his life,” Melissa Borrelli said.
Investigators said Hornfeck, a father and former National Guardsman, was lying on the tracks when he was struck by the train. His blood alcohol limit was over the legal limit.
The county coroner at the time ruled it a suicide. Family members said their brother was not depressed and would not have taken his own life.
Less than a year later, family members said the coroner changed the manner of death to undetermined.
“I’ve been searching for all these years and I could never bring myself to move forward with it and I think it’s time. I mean, it’s possible there was some foul play involved but I mean we can’t say for sure because there’s so many unanswered questions and I don’t think anybody really wanted to get to the bottom of it,” Borelli said.
Troubling questions, the sister claimed, like what happened to their brother’s wallet and the nearly $400 in cash he had just been paid from work.
"Did someone steal it from him before he got out of the car or after? It’s just very, very strange. It doesn’t make any sense because he would have had his ID on him and stuff, " asked Susan Hornfeck Yesensky, who said police searched the tracks and never found the cash or the wallet.
Target 11 spoke with Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams, who reviewed the file and confirmed the wallet and cash were never located.
The family also has a troubling question about the timeline.
After a night of barhopping on the Southside and in Oakland, they said their brother was returning home with an acquaintance when he suddenly asked to get out of the car near the 15th Street Bridge in Port Vue between 4 a.m. and 4:15 a.m.
At 5:49 a.m. - nearly two hours later - he was struck by the train about a half-mile from the bridge.
The conductor of another train that came through the same area at 4:30 a.m. indicated no one was on or near the tracks.
"There’s two hours unaccounted for. Where was he? Yesensky wondered.
Family members believe he may have visited with friends along the river, but that has not been confirmed. And they suspect he may have been trying to get back to McKeesport.
Adding to the mystery, family members uncovered a deposition in a wrongful death lawsuit their mother had filed against the railroad.
The Port Vue police chief said he didn’t want the train moved until homicide police conducted a thorough investigation because of “recent problems in his borough, he thought there could be foul play involved.”
The chief added, “that the CSX engineer said the individual made no movement when horn signals were made and the chief thought there was a possibility that the body had been dumped there.”
Earle spoke with the former chief who said he didn’t recall what was happening in the borough at that time that gave him cause for concern.
“He could have slipped and cracked his head. I don’t know. Maybe he was knocked out and somebody laid him there. We don’t know. We just don’t know,” Yesensky said.
But the medical examiner who reviewed the report told Target 11 he saw no other signs of trauma and nothing to indicate foul play.
Family members are now hoping someone will come forward with information to finally put some of the questions to rest.
“Maybe somebody remembers something that, you know, they didn’t say back then, if anybody knows anything,” Yesensky said.
Earle also reached out to Allegheny County police, who said they would look into it.
Earle recently learned that a county detective has been re-interviewing some people who had been with Michael Hornfeck before he died.
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