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updated: 4/27/2014 4:27 PM

Aurora cop praised for comforting dying tollway worker

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An Aurora police officer recently was honored for comforting a dying Illinois Tollway worker after a fiery truck crash in January on Interstate 88.

Officer Sam Aguirre was named the department's March Employee of the Month for his actions the night of Jan. 27 to aid Vincent Petrella, 39, as he faced death.

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"Officer Aguirre's actions were not only heroic and brave," said Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas, "but as several of our officers on scene that night pointed out, they gave a measure of comfort to the Petrella family knowing he was not alone during his final moments."

Aguirre and Officer Dave Brian responded to the fire at I-88 and Eola Road, which authorities say was caused when a semitrailer plowed into Petrella's truck and the squad car of Illinois State Trooper Douglas Balder. Petrella, of Wheeling, and Balder had pulled over to the side of the road to help the driver of a disabled semi.

Both Aguirre and Brian tried to get Petrella out of the burning wreck.

Police said Aguirre climbed on the truck's hood, removed the windshield with his bare hands, and comforted Petrella by holding his hands, encouraging him to hang on and reassuring him that help was there.

Police said Brian had no idea how Aguirre could have stayed with Petrella because he recalled the smoke was so thick at times that Brian could barely breathe.

The truck driver blamed for the crash, Renato V. Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park, faces numerous felony charges. He is free on bond and next due in court May 15 in Wheaton.

Authorities say Velasquez only slept for 3½ hours during a 37½-hour shift when his truck hit the squad car and caused the chain reaction crash.

Balder, a trooper since 2007 and 20-year Navy veteran, is expected to recover.

Senior police academy: Wednesday is the deadline to register for the Elgin Police Department's Senior Citizens Police Academy.

Classes for the free program are from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays May 28 to June 26 at the department, 151 Douglas Ave.

Participants must be 55 years or older. Classes will cover a variety of topics, plus a tour of the department, 911 center, major investigations unit, and the drug and gang units.

For more information, visit cityofelgin.org or call Cherie Aschenbrenner, the department's crime prevention specialist, at (847) 289-2626.

Congrats: Elgin Police Officer Joe Riordan and Fire Capt. Robb Cagann were honored recently at the American Legion Post 57 as Police Officer of the Year and Firefighter of the Year, respectively.

hhitzeman@dailyherald.com

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