Saying it's an "imminent hazard to public safety," federal regulators shut down the trucking company responsible for a semi involved in a crash in late January that killed a tollway worker and seriously injured a state trooper.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ordered Naperville-based DND International to pull all trucks off the highways until further notice, according to a release Wednesday from federal regulators.
Trooper Douglas J. Balder, of Oswego, and tollway worker Vincent Petrella, 39, of Wheeling were helping a disabled semi about 9:45 p.m. Jan. 27 in the eastbound lanes of I-88 near Eola Road in Aurora when another semitrailer truck barreled into them.
Petrella was killed in the crash. Balder remains hospitalized, Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said Wednesday night.
"After the horrible tragedy on I-88 earlier this year, I asked for a thorough investigation of DND International, so that we could get to the bottom of the incident," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in a statement. "The investigation confirmed my suspicions that the problems with this trucking company are putting travelers at risk every day. I am happy that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took swift action to take these trucks off the road. This type of strong and vigorous oversight must continue in order to make certain we are doing everything possible to prevent this kind of dangerous driving behavior."
Renato V. Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park was charged with 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.
Federal regulators determined DND "committed widespread, serious violations of federal regulations that protect the safety of the motoring public."
The shutdown order went into effect about 2:50 p.m. Tuesday, requiring any of DND's 40 independent contractors on the road at the time to continue to their next destination and then park the semi indefinitely, said David LaPorte, attorney for DND International.
"We strongly disagree with the imminent hazard out of service order," LaPorte said. "DND had already taken all of the action possible to abate violations that led to the order."
The company recently purchased onboard recorders, which are considered the gold standard in real-time monitoring of work logs, for each of its trucks, LaPorte said.
The company scheduled training for its drivers to learn how to use the new recorders -- a costly investment, he said -- for this Friday. After the crash, further investigation of seven other drivers for DND found that all seven workers had falsified their hours, regulators said.
"The constant focus of every driver, particularly operators of very large commercial vehicles, must be on safety," FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said in a statement. "Companies and commercial drivers that knowingly jeopardize public safety by disregarding common-sense regulations that prevent driver fatigue will not be tolerated and will be banned from continuing their dangerous and illegal behavior."
LaPorte disagreed that the driver's hours had anything to do with the crash.
He said, instead, a semi in front of Velasquez blocked his view of the disabled vehicle and rescue vehicles until it switched lanes at the last second.
"I have nothing to indicate that driver fatigue was a contributing factor. I have no indication that he fell asleep, and no indication that he was anything other than alert," LaPorte said. "What is not being mentioned in any of the articles is that the other truck was broke down in the travel lane of I-88. Both vehicles were in the travel portion of I-88."
LaPorte argued that the investigation determined that DND had a false log rate of 25 percent -- an amount found in many other companies that regulators haven't shut down, he said.
"If DND is an imminent hazard, then thousands of other truck companies are a hazard as well," he said. "I don't want to minimize it. It's an issue that needs to be addressed. But it's not the standard for imminent hazard."
"Certainly our condolences go out to everyone affected, and we pray for a full recovery (for the trooper)," LaPorte said. "This was a horrible, horrible accident, but DND is a responsible trucking company, and we're taking responsible actions to make sure this never happens again."