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updated: 1/30/2014 9:41 PM

Two federal agencies join probe of fatal I-88 crash

Whether truck companies are following regulations questioned

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  • Vincent Petrella

      Vincent Petrella

  • Police and fire officials at the scene of a fatal accident on I-88 near Eola Road Monday night. One tollway worker was killed and an Illinois State trooper remains hospitalized.

      Police and fire officials at the scene of a fatal accident on I-88 near Eola Road Monday night. One tollway worker was killed and an Illinois State trooper remains hospitalized.
    Photo by Network Video Productions

  • Federal investigators are probing the circumstances that led to a fatal crash Monday night along I-88.

      Federal investigators are probing the circumstances that led to a fatal crash Monday night along I-88.
    Photo by Network Video Productions

  • Dick Durbin

      Dick Durbin

  • Video: Raw video from I-88 accident

 
 

Two federal agencies have launched a joint investigation into the crash that killed Wheeling tollway worker Vincent Petrella and seriously injured a state trooper along I-88 in Aurora.

The probe by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was announced Thursday after U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called for an investigation. Both agencies said they started gathering information earlier in the week.

Petrella and Trooper Douglas J. Balder of Oswego were helping with a disabled semitrailer truck along eastbound I-88 near Eola Road when their vehicles were struck by a truck driven by Renato V. Velasquez of Hanover Park.

Prosecutors say Velasquez had slept for only 3 hours during a 37-hour shift in which he traveled through Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa before returning to the Chicago area. When the crash occurred about 9:30 p.m. Monday, both Balder and Petrella were sitting inside their parked vehicles, which had flashing emergency lights.

Balder's wife, Kim, on Thursday issued a statement expressing her gratitude for "the outpouring of support, care and genuine concern" that her family has received.

"My husband is fighting for his life, and I know that there are few words that can comfort the grief of the Petrella family's loss," Kim Balder said. "Please know that your family has the sympathy and support from all of us, and may God embrace Vincent's soul."

State and local authorities, meanwhile, are conducting a criminal investigation into the deadly crash.

Velasquez, 46, faces felony charges including operating a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired, violating a rule that forbids more than 11 hours of driving in a 14-hour shift, and making a false report of record and duty status.

In a letter to FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro, Durbin asked the agency to determine if Velasquez's employer, Naperville-based DND International Inc., broke trucking rules by letting him be on the road too long.

Durbin also wants steps taken to ensure every trucking company is complying with federal regulations limiting the number of hours drivers can be on the road.

"We establish the standards for how long truck drivers can be on the road," he said. "We require trucking companies and others to keep records so that we can verify the logs of the drivers against the requirements of federal law."

Durbin said he wanted to make sure FMCSA officials move quickly to gather that information and protect evidence.

Federal regulations require that truck drivers who spend more than 11 hours behind the wheel during any 14-hour shift must take a 10-hour break. Prosecutors allege that Velasquez falsified his driving log to indicate he was complying with the law.

Before Durbin urged the FMCSA to get involved, the NTSB decided to send its own investigators.

"We're looking at safety issues surrounding the accident," said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the NTSB.

Holloway said the investigation, which is expected to take months, will examine what caused the crash and determine if any safety recommendations need to be made.

Meanwhile, FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne said the agency has received Durbin's letter. "Safety is our top priority and we appreciate the support of Senator Durbin in determining the cause of this tragic crash," DeBruyne said.

DeBruyne said the NTSB will serve as the lead agency in the investigation "and FMCSA personnel will assist in every way possible."

FMCSA safety investigators on Tuesday started "a comprehensive review" of DND International to determine whether the company is complying with all federal motor carrier safety regulations, according to DeBruyne. Those findings will be combined with the results of the NTSB review.

DND International officials did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday said the governor shares Durbin's desire for a full investigation of the crash. He said the Illinois Department of Transportation will offer technical assistance as needed.

"We are doing everything necessary to assist in this investigation and ensure that every trucking company in the state of Illinois complies with the law," spokesman David Blanchette said.

In his letter, Durbin said he hopes the FMCSA looks into other similar incidents and takes the necessary steps to ensure all trucking companies are "doing everything possible to prevent the kind of dangerous driving behavior that may have contributed to the tragedy in Chicago on Monday."

Durbin said he's going to look into how frequently the FMCSA conducts random inspections of the records of businesses.

"The point is to not only get to the bottom of it and understand what happened out on I-88," Durbin said, "but also to serve fair notice on a lot of other companies that we take this seriously. We're going to investigate it. We're going to enforce it."

Political Editor Mike Riopell contributed to this story.

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