Trooper hurt in I-88 crash seeks homicide charges

  • Renato V. Velasquez

    Renato V. Velasquez

  • Vincent Petrella

    Vincent Petrella

  • During a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse, Illinois State Trooper Doug Balder talks about his recovery from injuries sustained when a truck hit him last year on the shoulder of Interstate 88.

      During a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse, Illinois State Trooper Doug Balder talks about his recovery from injuries sustained when a truck hit him last year on the shoulder of Interstate 88. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Illinois State Trooper Doug Balder discusses his recovery from injuries sustained when a truck hit him in January 2014 on Interstate 88 in Aurora.

      Illinois State Trooper Doug Balder discusses his recovery from injuries sustained when a truck hit him in January 2014 on Interstate 88 in Aurora. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Attorney Elizabeth Kaveny speaks Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse advocating for the filing of reckless homicide charges against truck driver Renato Velasquez. At left is Kim Balder and her husband, Doug Balder, a state trooper who was hit by a truck last year.

      Attorney Elizabeth Kaveny speaks Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse advocating for the filing of reckless homicide charges against truck driver Renato Velasquez. At left is Kim Balder and her husband, Doug Balder, a state trooper who was hit by a truck last year. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Attorney Elizabeth Kaveny introduces Elizabeth Sauter, right, widow of Illinois State Trooper James Sauter, during a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse. Kaveny is advocating for the filing of reckless homicide charges against trucker Renato Velasquez.

      Attorney Elizabeth Kaveny introduces Elizabeth Sauter, right, widow of Illinois State Trooper James Sauter, during a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse. Kaveny is advocating for the filing of reckless homicide charges against trucker Renato Velasquez. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Kim Balder speaks at a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse about her husband, state trooper Doug Balder, left, and the injuries he sustained when struck by a truck last year. Elizabeth Sauter, right, listens while her father, Donald, holds a photo of her and her deceased husband, Illinois State Trooper James Sauter.

      Kim Balder speaks at a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse about her husband, state trooper Doug Balder, left, and the injuries he sustained when struck by a truck last year. Elizabeth Sauter, right, listens while her father, Donald, holds a photo of her and her deceased husband, Illinois State Trooper James Sauter. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Elizabeth Sauter and her deceased husband, Illinois State Trooper James Sauter, are pictured in a photo during a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse.

      Elizabeth Sauter and her deceased husband, Illinois State Trooper James Sauter, are pictured in a photo during a news conference Tuesday at the DuPage County courthouse. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/28/2015 6:04 AM

With the trial just weeks away for a Hanover Park truck driver accused of causing a January 2014 crash along Interstate 88 that killed a tollway worker and seriously injured a state trooper, his victims are seeking increased charges against the driver.

Trooper Doug Balder and his wife, Kimberli, pleaded Tuesday for DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin to charge Renato Velasquez with reckless homicide in addition to the traffic felonies Velasquez already faces.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Balder, who said he feels lucky to be alive after suffering 13 broken ribs, a broken left scapula and severe burns over his entire left side, said he's frustrated with the lack of more serious charges against Velasquez.

"I view it as a failure of the system to take care of us. We can't even get them to charge Mr. Velasquez with reckless homicide. It's disturbing," Balder said. "If anything we can make a precedent here to prevent this in the future. This will happen again and we're trying to prevent that."

Velasquez, 46, is charged with operating a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired 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.

"The felony truck driving charges have nothing to do with killing people," Kimberli Balder said. "If they had crashed into a guardrail instead of killing people, the penalty would have been the same. We don't think that's right."

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If convicted, Velasquez faces a maximum of three years in prison. The reckless homicide charge, if added, would increase the range to two to five years in prison served at 50 percent.

"I can't think of a better example of the conscious disregard for the safety of others than when a commercial trucker sleeps for three hours and is awake for 37 hours before he gets on the road and drives," said Elizabeth Kaveny, Balder's attorney.

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

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

Prosecutors say Velasquez had slept for only 3 hours during a 37-hour shift in which he traveled through Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa before returning to the Chicago area.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"(Berlin) has told us his office believes unless someone has previously committed this offense, fallen asleep previously or has a sleep disorder that they knew about, that that alone would constitute reckless," Kaveny said. "That's ridiculous. This is not a dog bite case. You don't get one free death before you get prosecuted for your second."

Berlin issued a written statement following Tuesday's media conference.

"As with every case that comes through my office, charging decisions are made after a thorough review of the facts, circumstances and applicable law in each individual case. While this tragic case involves the death of a state employee and severe injury to an Illinois state trooper, the charging decision was handled no differently," Berlin wrote. "The Illinois Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct mandate that as state's attorney I have the duty to only bring charges that can be substantiated in a court of law. My charging decisions cannot be based on emotion, politics or any other forces."

Velasquez, who is free on $150,000 bail, stands trial Feb. 24.

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