Trucker found guilty of most charges in fatal I-88 crash

A Hanover Park truck driver was found guilty Thursday of most charges against him in connection with a fiery crash on Jan. 27, 2014, that killed a tollway worker and severely injured a state trooper near Aurora.

DuPage Judge Robert Kleeman found Renato Velasquez, 47, guilty of the felony charges of operating a commercial motor vehicle under the impairment of fatigue, and two counts of failure to comply with hours of service requirements, each of which carries a sentence ranging from probation to three years in prison to be served concurrently.

Kleeman also found Valasquez guilty of traffic offenses that include one count of failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and failure to yield to stationary emergency vehicles.

Kleeman said Velasquez had to have been fatigued after driving for more than 20 hours in the previous 26-hour stretch and admitting to never seeing the numerous emergency lights of the state police squad, the illuminated arrow board of the tollway HELP truck, dozens of ground flares and the flashing lights on the emergency tow truck already on the scene to assist with the broken-down truck.

“I cannot fathom how someone would not have seen all of that,” Kleeman said.

The judge, however, also ruled prosecutors did not meet their burden of proof regarding the charge of Velasquez falsifying his travel logs and found him not guilty of that count.

After the verdict, Kimberli Balder, the wife of Trooper Doug Balder who was injured in the crash, said her family does not consider the conviction a win.

“We're glad (Velasquez) was found guilty of what he was. We still don't view this as a win because (tollway worker) Vince Petrella lost his life and the charges (Velasquez) faced today had nothing to do with killing anybody,” Kimberli Balder said. “No sentence he gets is going to be enough for what he's done. We hope he'll get the maximum. Doug's recovery will be longer than this guy's jail time.”

Velasquez's attorney, Steven Goldman, agreed it was a tough case but praised Kleeman for his fairness.

“This case has no winners. It was just a tragedy what happened, but I'm satisfied with the ruling. I think the judge was fair in his ruling,” Goldman said. “As for sentencing, I'm going to assume the state will be asking for the max and I'll be asking for probation.”

The crash occurred about 9:20 p.m. Jan. 27 when Trooper Balder and tollway worker Petrella were helping with a disabled semitrailer truck in the far right lane of eastbound I-88 near Aurora.

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 car's gas tank ruptured and his car, which was pushed into a ditch, was engulfed in flames.

Prosecutors alleged 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 is next due in court on March 23 for the filing of post-trial motions and setting of a sentencing date.

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State Trooper Doug Balder
Vincent Petrella
This state police car was engulfed in flames after it was hit by a semitrailer truck on I-88; Trooper Doug Balder suffered 13 broken ribs, a broken left scapula and severe burns over his entire left side. A tollway worker was killed separately. courtesy of Bill Howard
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