Trooper hurt in I-88 crash recovering 'very well,' wife says

The Illinois state trooper injured in February after a semitrailer truck crashed into emergency vehicles along I-88, killing a tollway worker, is recovering "very well" from his multiple injuries, his wife said Thursday.

Trooper Douglas Balder was a spectator in court Thursday, flanked by more than a dozen other state troopers, for a routine status hearing in the criminal case against the truck driver, Renato Velasquez.

Balder, 38, of Oswego, wore a polo shirt and shorts and his badge around his neck, leaving visible the results of his many injuries.

The Jan. 27 crash left him with second- and third-degree burns over 15 percent of his body, broken ribs, a fractured clavicle, and numerous cuts to his head and face.

Outside court Thursday, Balder's wife, Kimberli, said the support shown by family and friends has helped the family, including the Balders' 8-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, through a very tough time.

"It's been a tough road, but his recovery is going very well," Kimberli Balder said. "Right now he has therapy sessions daily, and we're keeping up with that, but he is recovering."

About 9:30 p.m. Jan. 27, Baldwin and tollway worker Vincent Petrella of Wheeling were helping with a disabled semitrailer truck on eastbound I-88 near Eola Road in Aurora when their vehicles were struck by a truck driven by Velasquez.

When the crash occurred, both Petrella and Balder were sitting inside their parked vehicles, which had flashing emergency lights.

Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park, faces multiple felony charges, including operating a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired, driving beyond the 14-hour rule and the 11-hour rule, and making a false report of record and duty status.

In addition, he's charged with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and failure to yield to stationary emergency vehicles.

Prosecutors say Velasquez had slept for only 3½ hours during a 37½-hour shift in which he traveled through Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa before returning to the Chicago area. Velasquez, who is free on $150,000 bail, is next due in court June 12.

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