Cop returned to work a year after getting hit by sleepy trucker

Illinois State Trooper Douglas Balder commemorated the anniversary of the fiery crash that nearly took his life by doing something he didn't know he would ever do again.

He went back to work full time.

Balder, an eight-year veteran, has avoided speaking to the media during the trial of Renato Velasquez, the truck driver accused of causing the crash that seriously injured Balder and killed tollway worker Vincent Petrella of Wheeling.

After Thursday's verdict, in which Velasquez was found guilty of multiple felonies in connection with the crash, Balder's wife, Kimberli, shared the news of her husband's return to full-time duty.

"He went back to work part time on Dec. 22, but he was cleared for full-time duty on Jan. 27," Kimberli Balder said. "He's in the office in an administrative position, but his goal is to get back out on patrol."

Balder's co-workers and supervisors, including Lt. Bob Meeder, are "grateful" to have him back and are enjoying seeing his determination to return to full form.

"From the onset of the accident, Doug has been a survivor. He was in a coma for 90 days and within a year he's back in his capacity as an Illinois state trooper," said Meeder, the commander of Illinois State Police District 15, which oversees the tollway system. "Doug is clearly a determined man. He wants to prove to himself and his co-workers that he is just as good now as he was before the accident."

Doug Balder previously said he felt lucky to be alive after suffering 13 broken ribs, a broken left scapula and severe burns over his entire left side as a result of the crash. He testified during Velasquez's trial that he blacked out when his squad was rear-ended by Velasquez's truck and woke up on fire with his hand feeling "like it was melting."

Kimberli Balder said the scars remain.

"He's doing a lot better, but the physical scars are still very much there," she said. "He's going to have to wear compression garments for a length of time."

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

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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