Wheeling man remembered for work, devotion to family

Vincent Petrella, the tollway worker from Wheeling killed Monday night while helping a stranded driver, was a hero, Gov. Pat Quinn said.

But to a friend who grew up with Petrella in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood on the Near West Side, he was always a hero.

“He was a hero just for the way he was with his family,” Paul Capuano said. “He was a man's man who put family before anything else. That's what a man's man is to me.”

Petrella, a 39-year-old maintenance worker, was 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 state trooper Douglas J. Balder's squad car, state police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

Petrella was killed and Balder was seriously injured.

Renato V. Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park, the driver of the other truck, is 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 was being taken to DuPage County jail to await his bond hearing Wednesday morning, Bond said.

On Tuesday, Balder, of Oswego, was in critical but stable condition at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Bond said.

Petrella's sister, Maria Petrella of Chicago, called her brother a “good person, hard working and a loving father and husband.” He and his wife, Sandra, had two children, she said.

The boys who attended Our Lady of Pompeii elementary school with Petrella and rode their bikes to the lakefront and the trains downtown to see movies nicknamed him “Baker.” That's because his name is really Vincenzo, and he went by Enzo, Capuano said.

“A character in the ‘Godfather' movie was called Enzo the baker, so ever since we were 8 or 9 we called him ‘Baker.'”

Besides devotion to his parents, who still live in the Taylor Street area, and later his wife, Sandra, and their children, Petrella was known for his work ethic.

He ran valet tickets at Tufano's restaurant when he was 13, said Capuano, then parked the cars there when he was old enough. Capuano, who still lives in the Chicago neighborhood, is a bartender there now.

“He was a very humorous guy, and he would make everybody laugh,” Capuano said. “He was a real character and a guy you always wanted to be around. He didn't have a mean bone in his body.”

Petrella was proud to be Italian American, and spoke Italian fluently, said his friend.

Quinn ordered Illinois flags to be flown at half-staff Tuesday in honor of Petrella.

“Vincent Petrella is a hero,” he said in a statement. “Both he and the injured State Trooper were doing heroic work — assisting their fellow citizens in an emergency. Both men were committed to keeping our roads safe and to helping those in need.

“Vincent was a selfless man, dedicated to his family and his job. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and fellow employees during this difficult time.”

Petrella had been an equipment operator laborer for the tollway since 2005 after starting his career as a toll collector in 2001, according to Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur, who expressed sympathy to his family and friends.

“On behalf of the Tollway Board and the entire Illinois Tollway, we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of one of our own, Illinois Tollway roadway maintenance worker Vincent Petrella,” she said in a statement. “Our roadway maintenance workers are on our roadways 24/7 to serve customers across our 286-mile system of tollways. They plow snow, maintain our roadways and, most importantly, are the first on the scene to help drivers in need. It was during what should have been a routine job that things went horribly wrong.”

State Police Director Hiram Grau spoke for his department: “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,”

The University Village Association, a development group in the Little Italy neighborhood, also issued a statement mourning Petrella's death.

“His zeal for his job with the Illinois Tollway was surpassed only by his love for his wife and two children,” the group said.

Trooper in I-88 crash to recover; truck driver charged

Renato V. Velasquez of Hanover Park has been charged with driving while fatigued and other charges in the fatal I-88 crash.
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