Family of tollway worker killed in I-88 crash sues

The family of an Illinois tollway worker from Wheeling killed Jan. 27 when a truck hit him along the Reagan Tollway (I-88) near Aurora is suing the driver and the company he drove for, alleging their negligence is to blame for the fatal crash.

The suit seeks in excess of $50,000 for the estate of Vincenzo "Enzo" Petrella, 39, who left behind a wife, 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

Authorities say Petrella was killed, and Illinois State Police Trooper Douglas J. Balder severely injured, while they were assisting a disabled semitrailer truck in the eastbound lanes of I-88 near Eola Road. Police say a second truck driven by Renato Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park, crashed into them, sparking a fire.

The suit states both Petrella and Balder were parked behind the disabled truck with their vehicles' emergency lights activated.

Velasquez is facing multiple felony charges, including operating a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired and making a false report of record and duty status. Prosecutors allege he had slept just 3½ hours during a 37½-hour shift. His next court appearance is April 14.

The company for which he worked, DND International of Naperville is also named as a defendant. The suit alleges the company failed in its duty to adequately train Velasquez and verify his log books. A person answering the phone Monday at DND said no one was available for comment.

Petrella attorney Thomas A. Demetrio said he hopes to put the spotlight on the need for trucking companies to follow federal laws governing sleep for truck drivers.

"These semitrailer trucks being operated by sleepy drivers turn into missiles on our highways and are just as dangerous as a loaded gun," Demetrio said in a news release. "It is our hope that over-the-road truck drivers and their employers take very good note of this lawsuit and the reasons for it and follow the federal guidelines scrupulously; and thus, avoid sleep deprivation and the careless loss of life that this wonderful family is going to have to live with forever."

Matthew T. Jenkins, another attorney for the family, said the Petrellas were "a young family living the American dream," and people should know that driving a truck without adequate sleep is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

"Laws that can protect citizens only work when the trucking industry follows the law," he said.

Balder, 38, filed suit against Velasquez and the trucking company last month. the suit will seek well over $1 million in damages, said his attorney, Elizabeth Kaveny.

The trooper remains hospitalized in the burn unit of Loyola University Medical Center and is still sedated because of pain, Kaveny said. He has had several surgeries, mostly for skin grafts, she said.

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