Defense: No proof trucker committed crime in Illinois

Renato Velasquez, the Hanover Park truck driver accused of falling asleep and causing a fatal crash on Jan. 27, 2014, along eastbound I-88 near Route 59 in Aurora, may have had falsified logs in his cab at the time of the accident, but his attorney says merely possessing the books is not a crime.

Velasquez, 47, is charged with operating a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired and making a false report of his record and duty status.

Prosecutors say Velasquez frequently, including several times in the week leading up to the crash, would falsify his in-cab log books to indicate he was abiding by federal rules that require truck drivers to sleep for 10 consecutive hours after driving 11 hours.

The crash occurred about 9:20 p.m. when state Trooper Douglas Balder and tollway worker Vincent Petrella were helping with a disabled semitrailer.

Petrella, a Wheeling resident, was killed when one of the steel rolls became dislodged from Velasquez's trailer and smashed into the cab of Petrella's Tollway HELP truck. Balder suffered 13 broken ribs, a broken left scapula and severe burns over his entire left side when his squad's gas tank ruptured and his car, which was pushed into a ditch, was engulfed in flames.

Prosecutors said Velasquez had slept for only 3½ hours during a 37½-hour shift in which he traveled through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska before returning to the Chicago area the night of the crash.

Velasquez's attorney Steven Goldman, however, while arguing for a directed finding, told Judge Robert Kleeman that he did not believe prosecutors were able to prove Velasquez doctored his books while physically in Illinois.

"The crime is not possession. The crime is making that false report. The crime is making that notation in your records. That's the crime," Goldman said. "And we have seen zero evidence that that crime was committed in the state of Illinois. We have zero idea where the falsification of these records occurred. Did it occur in a different state or did it occur here?"

Prosecutors argued DuPage County is an appropriate venue for the case to be tried because the accident related to the bogus logs happened within the county.

Goldman also disputed the charge that his client was fatigued, despite prosecutors playing 13 video clips of Velasquez being questioned by police after the accident. Several of the clips featured Velasquez telling state troopers that he "fell asleep or something" and saying he doesn't remember anything between passing Farnsworth Avenue until the crash near Route 59,

"The state brought in nobody to testify that my client was fatigued," Goldman said. "Look, I'm not saying my client is innocent. I'm saying the state of Illinois has failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Kleeman said he needed time to review case law related to Goldman's defense strategy, which Kleeman said he had not anticipated until recently.

Kleeman will rule on the directed finding when Velasquez's trial resumes at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. If he rules in favor of the prosecution, the case will proceed to closing arguments.

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COURTESY OF ABC7Image of a Jan. 27, 2014, crash on I-88. A state trooper and tollway worker Vincent Petrella were helping the driver of a disabled truck when they were hit by a tractor trailer. Petrella was killed. The truck driver, Renato Velaquez, was charged with violating federal safety rules including operating a motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired.
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