A state trooper is expected to recover from injuries he suffered Monday night during a fiery crash along Interstate 88 that killed a tollway worker from Wheeling.
And the driver of the semitrailer truck that hit his squad car is now facing a series of charges.
Contact information ( * required )
District 15 State Trooper Douglas J. Balder, 38, of Oswego, and Vincent Petrella, a 39-year-old maintenance worker, were helping a disabled semitrailer truck about 9:45 p.m. that was straddling the right lane and shoulder of eastbound I-88 near Eola Road in Aurora when another semitrailer truck rear-ended Balder's squad car, state police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.
The force of the collision pushed the squad car into the back of the Petrella's tollway vehicle, which then struck the disabled truck in front of it.
"The impact was so strong the vehicles became engulfed in flames," Bond said.
Both Balder and Petrella were sitting inside their vehicles when the crash occurred.
Petrella was killed and Balder was seriously injured.
Renato V. Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park is the driver facing felony charges in the crash, including operating a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired, driving beyond the 14-hour rule and the 11-hour rule, and false report of record and duty status. He's also charged with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, and failure to yield to stationary emergency vehicles.
Velasquez is being taken to DuPage County jail to await his bond hearing Wednesday morning, Bond said.
On Tuesday, Balder was in critical but stable condition at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Bond said.
"He's expected to recover," she said.
The truck driver involved in the crash was treated at a hospital and released. He was in police custody on Tuesday.
Bond said authorities were questioning the driver to determine what caused him to hit Balder's squad car. The squad car's emergency lights were on at the time of the crash, she said.
State Police Director Hiram Grau said in a statement that Balder has been a trooper since 2007. Tollway officials said Petrella was an equipment operator laborer who started his career as a toll collector in 2001.
"On behalf of the men and women of the Illinois State Police, I offer condolences to Vincent Petrella's family and to the entire Illinois Tollway," Grau said. "It is also with deep sadness that we offer our support and deepest sympathies to the family of Trooper Douglas Balder."
Balder is a 20-year military veteran who joined the Navy in 1994 and holds the rank of Senior Chief as an information systems technician. He returned from his most recent deployment in June, said Donna Morsovillo with Operation Welcome You Home.
According to his biography on the Operation Welcome You Home's website, Balder recently served as the senior enlisted leader for the Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa Communications Directorate. In that role, he managed training, evaluations, awards and recognitions and communicated with senior enlisted members.
Morsovillo said Balder's wife contacted her shortly before his return from deployment to plan a welcoming ceremony that took place June 23 in Oswego.
"He was grinning from ear to ear and his family was so proud of him," Morsovillo said. "You could see he was so glad to be home and be with his wife and children."
State police officials said Monday's crash is the latest to underline the need for Scott's Law, a measure passed in 2002 in honor of Scott Gillen, a Chicago firefighter who was struck and killed by a driver while assisting at a crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway in 2000.
The "move over" law requires drivers to be careful around stopped emergency vehicles.
When approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with its lights on, drivers must yield, change to a lane away from the emergency vehicle, and proceed with caution.
If a lane change is not possible, drivers should slow down and proceed with caution.
Monday's crash is not the first to prove fatal for emergency responders stopped along highways, Bond said.
In November 2012, Trooper Kyle Deatherage was struck and killed by a truck while conducting a traffic stop on I-55 near Collinsville. He was 32.
Then in March 2013, Trooper James Sauter died when his squad car was hit from behind by a truck on I-294 near Northbrook. Sauter, 28, of Vernon Hills, recently had finished helping a driver and was parked on the inside shoulder of the road.
"It's important that people understand that these men and women risk their lives when they are out on the interstates and the expressways and the roads assisting other people," Bond said. "They're vulnerable."
Bond said motorists need to be especially cautious now because the extreme weather has resulted in a lot of disabled vehicles and stranded motorists.
In 2013, Illinois State Police issued 856 citations to drivers who violated the "move over" law, Bond said.
The maximum fine for the violation is $10,000, and a driver's license can be suspended if alcohol is involved or if someone is hurt.
"Vehicles are weapons if they are not driven with safety as a priority," Bond said. "Slow down, don't drive distracted and take your time. Pay attention to what's on the road."