3 years for truck driver in fatal I-88 crash; trooper 'insulted' by apology
The Hanover Park truck driver who nodded off and caused a fiery crash on I-88 near Aurora that killed a tollway worker and severely injured a state trooper was sentenced Monday to three years in prison.
Given an opportunity to speak before he was sentenced, Renato Velasquez, 48, apologized several times to members of the Petrella and Balder families for his actions that killed tollway worker Vincent "Enzo" Petrella of Wheeling and left state Trooper Douglas Balder with severe burns and several broken bones.
Judge Robert Kleeman found Velasquez guilty in February 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.
Kleeman said Monday he did not think Velasquez intended to hurt anyone on Jan. 27, 2014, when he set out to drive for more than 20 hours in the previous 26-hour stretch, but Velasquez broke several laws.
"(Velasquez) was on the road for hours and hours with woefully insufficient rest," Kleeman said. "He didn't drive a few minutes over. He went over by a lot and made himself a dangerous motorist."
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 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.
Assistant State's Attorney Joe Ruggiero read a victim impact statement into the record from Petrella's widow, Sandra, in which she said her young children keep pictures of their father in their bedrooms to "protect them at night."
"They love Daddy so much," she wrote. "He was the best husband a wife could ask for. He is forever in my heart and is still my inspiration."
Balder's wife, Kimberli Balder, also read a statement from her husband in which he wrote that he remembered nothing after getting into an ambulance until several weeks later when he woke up out of a coma with a tube down his throat, begging for water.
"Every time the defendant takes a cold drink of ice water, I want him to think of me," Balder wrote.
He also wrote of the shock his wife experienced when she was told of his injuries.
"My wife's biggest worry that night was me being out in the frigid weather. She had no idea that the defendant is who she should have been worried about," he wrote. "After three tours (in the Middle East) my wife thought if there was a knock at the door it would have come during a tour, not while I was down the road doing my job for the Illinois State Police."
Outside court Monday, Balder said he did not think Velasquez's apology was sincere.
"From a certain perspective, I was kind of insulted by it. The man never offered to donate blood, never said ... 'What can I do to help?' or 'Can I offer some skin?'" Balder said. "Not until the last minute, just before sentencing, did he say 'I'm sorry for this crash.'"
Velasquez's attorney Steven Goldman declined to comment after the ruling.
Velasquez, who Kleeman ruled was eligible for a sentence of up to six years because of a previous drug conviction, will serve half the sentence before being eligible for the one year of parole to follow.