Tollway worker Vincent Petrella killed, state trooper Douglas Balder hurt in fiery I-88 semi crash

January 28, 2014 (MAYWOOD, Ill.)

Vincent Petrella, 39, was killed in a crash while helping a truck driver on the Reagan Tollway. He and an Illinois State Police trooper responded to a call of a disabled semi-trailer in the eastbound lanes on I-88 at Eola Road in Aurora on 10 p.m. Monday when another semi struck the disabled semi, squad car and maintenance vehicle and burst into flames.

Petrella was killed instantly. The trooper's car became wedged under one of the semis, but he was able to crawl out the passenger side door. Witnesses said he was on fire.

On Tuesday afternoon, a truck driver is in custody, a local family is grieving and a state trooper is being treated for serious injuries after he crawled out of a burning vehicle.

An Illinois State trooper is treated in the burn unit of Loyola University Medical Center. Douglas Balder, 38, is in critical but stable condition following an accident while on duty last night.

"Our trooper is in critical condition. He is expected to make it, but right now he does have some extensive injuries," Hiram Grau, Illinois State Police Director.

Trooper Balder is also a Navy reservist. He returned to the state police last year after his third activation.

But last night he had stopped to help a stranded truck driver on I-88 in Aurora. There was an explosive fire when truck ran over Trooper Balder's vehicle and into a tollway maintenance workers vehicle. Petrella had been with the Tollway since 2001 and was a father of two.

"I feel very bad for the gentleman and his family, and my prayers are with them. I feel horrible about that, and I hope the state police officer gets through okay," said Paul Anzell, witness.

Paul Anzell says he was on his way home last night and witnesses two trucks traveling eastbound ahead of him on I-88. He says then he saw a flashing light.

"The first truck did get off that lane. The second truck, he never moved. He just kept going straight, no tail lights went on, no break lights. He just went right into it, and everything exploded," said Anzell.

The accident is under investigation. Petrella's sister said her brother was a good man who cherished his wife and their children. Governor Quinn has ordered all flags to fly at half-staff at state buildings.

I-Team: Trucking company records reveal past fatal accident

Safety records reveal a pattern of problems for the trucking company involved in Monday night's fatal crash.

The owner of the Naperville trucking firm DND International spent Tuesday afternoon with federal motor carrier inspectors and Illinois State Police. This isn't the first deadly accident that a DND truck has been involved in.

Law enforcement and truck safety records reveal a DND truck in a fatal accident on I-55 in Sangamon County in August of 2012. The driver of the other truck died, but DND's owner says that one wasn't her driver's fault.

Owner Natasha Dimitrievski says the driver involved in Monday night's crash was a contractor, not a company employee. She declined to name that independent owner-operator.

"I'm so very sorry. I am truly sorry, and I don't know what to say anymore," Dimitrievski said. "You can't be in the truck with the drivers so as much as we can do we control them. But I'm not there in there so I don't know what they do. Only thing I know, my drivers logs that I receive. It's all good."

DND has 42 trucks in its fleet. Federal safety records reveal six crashes the past years and a host of safety violations: not-compliant driver work records and moving violations-mostly for speeding. And industry records reveal the firm has been dropped by insurance companies six times in the past six years.

Every year, Illinois State Police issue hundreds of violations to motorists for not getting out of the way of emergency vehicles. After what happened Monday night, authorities say it reinforces the need to follow what is known as Scott's Law, honoring a Chicago firefighter who was struck and killed as he assisted on a crash in 2000.

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