Lawmaker wants harsher penalties for scofflaw truckers

  • A patrol car was destroyed after being hit by a passing semi-truck last year during a fatal crash on I-88 that claimed the life of a tollway worker and injured a state trooper.

    A patrol car was destroyed after being hit by a passing semi-truck last year during a fatal crash on I-88 that claimed the life of a tollway worker and injured a state trooper. Photo courtesy of Bill Howard

 
 
Updated 3/5/2015 5:47 AM

Lawmakers want to stiffen penalties for truckers who willfully violate safety regulations following a deadly I-88 accident last year near Aurora that killed a tollway worker and injured a state trooper.

Renato Velasquez, a truck driver from Hanover Park, was convicted last month after he failed to see the emergency lights set up by tollway worker Vince Petrella and State Trooper Doug Balder, who were helping a disabled semitrailer on I-88. Petrella was killed and Balder suffered 13 broken ribs and severe burns after his squad car erupted in flames.

 

Velasquez was found 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. The sentence for each ranges from probation to three years in prison, to be served concurrently.

New legislation introduced into committee Wednesday would enhance the criminal charges for truckers like Velasquez. It would apply to truckers who cause accidents by, among other things, failing to rest for the legal amount of time.

A truck driver who willfully ignores the safety guidelines and causes an accident resulting in a death would be charged with a Class 2 felony and face a minimum three-year prison sentence. If a person was injured, but not killed, the truck driver would face penalties for a Class 3 felony, or between two and five years in prison.

State Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, was among those in an Illinois House committee who voted for the plan and sent it to the full House.

"My grandfather was struck and killed by a vehicle in 1952. He was a police detective," said Moylan. "This is the right thing to do."

State Rep. John Cabello, a Machesney Park Republican who introduced the bill into committee, said it was time to change the penalties.

"In some of these crashes, if somebody just hits a guard rail, they would be charged the same as one of these crashes where somebody may have been killed," he said of the current law. "We want to send a message that that's not OK."

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