Injured state trooper calls for harsher charges

DUPAGE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Two deadly crashes, two drivers charged, but a state trooper seriously injured in one of the wrecks says the charges don't go far enough.

Illinois State Trooper Douglas Balder was in a medically induced coma for six weeks and has gone through a painful recovery. He and the widow of an officer killed in a similar crash say reckless homicide charges are warranted in both cases.

Exactly one year ago, Balder was seriously hurt in a fiery crash on I-88. He and toll way worker Vincent Petrella were helping the driver of a disabled truck when they were hit by a tractor trailer. Petrella was killed.

"I had 13 broken ribs, a broken left scapula, a brain bleed and a busted lip," says Balder, "and second and third degree burns to my entire left side."

The truck driver, Renato Velaquez, was charged with violating federal safety rules including operating a motor vehicle while fatigued or impaired. Balder and his attorney want the state's attorney to file reckless homicide charges.

"If anything if we can make a precedent here for the future," he says. "This will happen again. We're trying to prevent that."

Balder was joined by the wife of Illinois State Trooper James Sauter. Sauter was killed nearly two years ago when a truck driver allegedly fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed into his car on the Tri-State Tollway.

"He is by no means being held responsible for my husband's never coming home again, never having the opportunity to become a father, never having the opportunity to receive the sergeant rank," says Liz Sauter, James' widow. "I could go on forever."

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin is prosecuting the Balder case. He says his decisions must be based on the law and what can be proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt. And he says that's what he's done.
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