Truck driver accused in deadly I-88 crash, Renato Velasquez, released on bond | Tollway worker Vincent Petrella killed, state trooper Douglas Balder hurt

January 29, 2014 (WHEATON, Ill.)

Renato Velasquez had been on the job for nearly 38 hours when his truck struck three vehicles on I-88, killing a tollway worker and injuring an Illinois State trooper, prosecutors said in court.

Velasquez posted the required 10 percent of a $150,000 bond. And, the I-Team has learned this isn't the first time he's faced felony charges.

Velasquez said nothing as he left the jail. He was back home Wednesday night on his Hanover Park block, where he's known as a good neighbor with a son in the Marines.

"A family man, a hard-working man. He don't bother nobody. He's nice to the neighbors," said Arnulfo Flores, neighbor.

On Wednesday night, Velasquez did not want to come to the door to answer questions about the crash or about his criminal past.

Authorities say Velasquez had not been drinking or doing drugs when he allegedly caused this fiery chain-reaction crash. But he was likely exhausted, officials charge, after ignoring rules for truckers requiring ten hours of sleep after 14 hours on the road.

Velasquez, 46, faces four felony charges related to driving while fatigued and beyond his approved hours after a crash that killed tollway worker Vincent Petrella, 39, and injured Illinois State Trooper Douglas Balder, 38. Petrella and Balder were responding to a disabled semi when the crash occurred Monday night in Aurora.

Prosecutors said Velasquez had reported to work at 8 a.m. Sunday, and had been on the job for nearly 38 hours – with only 3 1/2 hours sleep – when the crash occurred.

Trooper Balder remains hospitalized in stable condition as of Wednesday afternoon. He was on fire when he crawled out of his squad car, witness said, and suffered third-degree burns to 15-percent of his body, broken ribs and shoulders, and has bleeding of the brain.

Bond was set at $150,000 for Velasquez during Wednesday's court appearance. His defense attorney would not confirm the hours Velasquez worked, but said his client is remorseful.

"It was an unfortunate, tragic accident. A blood test was done. A urine test was done. There was no drugs in system whatsoever," Steven Goldman, defense attorney, said.

"The law requires 10 hours of sleep after 14 hours of driving. That didn't happen. That's what we expect the evidence to show in this case," DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin said.

David Carley heads the Center for Narcolepsy, Sleep and Health Research at UIC. He said driving without nighttime sleep can have the same effect as drunk driving.

"Vigilance is very important. Scanning our environment is very important,. And reaction time is very important. Every one of those areas becomes impaired with insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation," Carley said.

"You're not only putting your life at risk. But you're putting other's life at risk," Darci DiBuono, a friend of the Petrella family, said.

Petrella's family is making funeral arrangements for the father of two. Friends say his family lives above a popular Little Italy restaurant, Tufano's.

"It's just terrible. You can't ask for a better guy. There should be more like him," Paulie Capuano said.

Velasquez's family, including his wife and four children, were in court Wednesday. His attorney confirmed that in 2001, Velasquez served time on a federal drug charge.

How does a convicted felon get a commercial driver's license? According to the Secretary of State's office, because the crimes did not occur while he was driving a commercial vehicle, he was not prohibited by law from obtaining a CDL.

Velasquez is due back in court next month.

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