Driver charged in fatal I-88 crash posts bond
Renato V. Velasquez had slept for only 3½ hours during a 37½-hour shift when his truck rammed into a stopped squad car Monday night, triggering a chain-reaction accident that killed a tollway worker and seriously injured a state trooper, authorities said Wednesday.
Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park, faces 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. He's also charged with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and failure to yield to stationary emergency vehicles.
He was released late Wednesday from DuPage County jail on $150,000 bond.
DuPage State's Attorney Bob Berlin said Velasquez, who works for DND International Inc. of Naperville, began his shift at 8 a.m. Sunday, filling out paperwork and loading his semitrailer truck. He was on the road by 2:30 p.m. Sunday and dropped off a load in Nebraska before stopping in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to pick up a new load and then head back to the Chicago area.
Berlin said Velasquez admitted to investigators he had slept for only 3½ hours between 8 a.m. Sunday and when the crash occurred around 9:30 p.m. Monday.
"What happened Monday evening was just a terrible, terrible tragedy that was very preventable. The fact is, driving a commercial vehicle (and) not having enough sleep is just as dangerous as driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs," Berlin said. "Unfortunately, these are the consequences that happen when the operator of a commercial motor vehicle drives in violation of these rules."
Federal regulations require that truck drivers who spend more than 11 hours behind the wheel during any 14-hour shift must take a 10-hour break. Berlin said Velasquez falsified his driving log to indicate he was complying with the law.
On Wednesday the owner of the trucking company where Velasquez was working as an outside contractor told ABC 7 that her drivers' logs are "all good."
"You can't be in the truck with the drivers, so as much as we can do we control them" DND owner Natasha Dimitrievski told the I-Team outside her Naperville headquarters. "I'm not in there, so I don't know what they do. Only thing I know, my drivers logs that I receive. It's all good."
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's safety measurement system, in a 24-month period that ended Tuesday, DND International's drivers were involved in six crashes, including one fatal crash and one with injuries. The numbers reflect only a carrier's involvement in crashes, and not its responsibility.
When his truck rammed into the stopped squad car along I-88 in Aurora, Velasquez was hauling three steel coils, each weighing 14,000 pounds. The squad car, a tollway vehicle and a semitrailer truck that had broken down were straddling the line between the right lane and the shoulder of the tollway, authorities said.
Velasquez's attorney, Steven Goldman, said drug and alcohol tests conducted on Velasquez came back negative, and Berlin confirmed that. Berlin said that was one of the reasons officials are not pursuing more serious charges, such as reckless homicide.
Goldman said Velasquez simply did not see the bright, flashing lights of the state police squad, tollway vehicle and the other semitrailer truck the emergency crews had stopped to help. Goldman also said "there is no evidence" Velasquez had fallen asleep.
"It was an unfortunate, tragic accident," Goldman said. "He's devastated, and his family is devastated as well."
The accident killed Vincent Petrella, a 39-year-old tollway worker from Wheeling, and hospitalized Trooper Douglas J. Balder, 38, of Oswego.
Assistant State's Attorney Bethany Jackson said Balder suffered third-degree burns to 15 percent of his body, bleeding on the brain, two broken shoulders and broken ribs in the crash. He was listed in serious condition Wednesday at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.
DuPage County Judge Thomas Else on Wednesday also ordered Velasquez to surrender his commercial driver's license and not to drive any motor vehicles. Goldman called the $150,000 bond "reasonable, considering the circumstances."
Velasquez's next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 5, in DuPage County.
Jackson said Velasquez's record includes a 2001 federal conviction for delivering a kilogram of cocaine in Leavenworth, Kan. Locally, court records show an August 2009 speeding ticket for going 60 mph in a 40 mph zone in Itasca and a March 2012 citation in Bloomingdale Township for following too closely, which resulted in an accident.
Valasquez's wife and children were in court Wednesday but did not speak with reporters.