4 Killed On I-80 When Wrong-Way Driver Hits Car Head-On

UPDATED 02/06/12 4:14 p.m.

HAZEL CREST, Ill. (CBS) — Alcohol was suspected to be a factor in a fiery wreck that left four people dead early Monday, after a wrong-way driver crashed into another car on Interstate 80 in Hazel Crest.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, Illinois State Police spent the early morning hours investigating and reconstructing the accident in the westbound lanes of I-80, near Kedzie Avenue and just west of the Tri-State Tollway (I-294). At least a dozen police vehicles were on the scene.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

A wrong-way driver in a beige Infiniti sedan, with three passengers, smashed head-on into another vehicle shortly before 2:30 a.m.

Police said the driver, Gustavo Vargas, 29, of Berwyn, had just left the Skybox gentlemen’s club in Harvey with his three passengers. He wanted to turn around and go eastbound on I-80 instead of westbound, after reaching a median cut-through intended for emergency vehicles. Instead of getting into the eastbound lanes, he made a three-point turn and began heading the wrong way.

Vargas and two of his passengers — front seat passenger Jorge Pina, 27, of Chicago; and back seat passenger Armando Ruiz, 29, of Berwyn — were all killed in the crash. Another back seat passenger — Eduardo Rodriguez, 31, of Chicago — was taken in fair condition to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, police said.

The car caught fire, and was reduced to a burned-out shell.

The driver of the other car involved in the crash — a 1999 Ford Escort station wagon — was also killed. He is identified as Jason Wepsiec, 35, of Joliet.

It is believed that Wepsiec likely died on impact, while those in the wrong-way car might have died after that vehicle caught fire.

The victim’s parents, Susan Wepsiec and her husband Jim, were in Alabama when an Illinois State Police officer called Monday morning to convey the horrible news. They immediately left for Chicago.

Susan Wepsiec says her son had left the Sauk Village home where he lived with his sister sometime overnight. He was headed to visit his girlfriend.

“I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck,” she said. “I just can’t believe it’s real.”

State Police Sgt. Richard Decker said investigators have a pretty good idea of the cause of the crash.

“We suspect alcohol at this time. We’ve had some witnesses come forward, and we believe that they were all drinking this evening,” he said.

State Police Master Sgt. Timothy Tyler had an important reminder to keep such tragedies from happening in the future.

“Alcohol – if you’re going to drink, use a designated driver,” he said.

There was a wheelchair in the car that ended up on the side of the road, but state police would not comment on whether it belonged to anybody in the vehicle at the time.

“I can confirm that there was a wheelchair inside the vehicle,” Tyler said.

As CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports, Gustavo Vargas suffered from spina bifida. In fact, he was a poster child for Easter Seals in 1990, when he was 12. Relatives said he walked with a cane, but he could drive.

“My brother was the type of guy that he was always there for somebody, you know? He was always there to help them out, no matter what,” Israel Vargas said. “Like I said, he was disabled, but he was always the first one to jump and say ‘You know what, I’m there. I’ll go pick you up,’ or ‘What do you need?’”

Initial reports indicated the Infiniti belonged to Gustavo Vargas and police said he was driving, but friends insisted he was a passenger. However, they admit he might have been drinking.

“That’s probably why wasn’t doing the driving, but I guess the person that was wasn’t any better,” his brother, Israel Vargas said.

Asked what he would say to Wespiec’s family after Israel Vargas said, “Our condolences are with them. I mean, it’s a tragedy that this had to happen, but I don’t know what happened.”

Westbound I-80 was closed between Kedzie Avenue and the Tri-State for about six hours, but was back open by 8:55 a.m.

Other incidents involving wrong-way drivers on Chicago area expressways have made headlines in recent months.

Just this past Friday morning, a suspected drunken driver headed the wrong way for 6 miles on the Stevenson Expressway. Rakesh J. Baker, 23, was first spotted driving the wrong way in a Jeep sport-utility-vehicle on the Stevenson near Kedzie Avenue, and finally slammed head-on into another vehicle on the ramp from southbound Lake Shore Drive to the inbound Stevenson around 3 a.m.

Four people were left in critical condition in that incident.

Back in December, Sergio Galez-Delira, 24, of Glenview, barreled into incoming traffic on the Edens Expressway and headed north in the southbound lanes from Elston Avenue all the way north to Glencoe. He did not hit any cars, but spurred many drivers to place terrified calls to 911.

Galez-Delira told CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez that he was drunk, and was also on anti-depressants at the time. He called the wrong-way misadventure “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever done.”

  • PG

    Yet another crash with fatalities that is being blamed on drunk driving. I’m just wondering how many people are going to have to die in this country before people figure out that drinking and driving don’t mix. Honestly, we have public service announcements, “Don’t drink and drive” is one of the mostly commonly known phrases in our nation, and we have “education” out the wazoo regarding this subject, and yet we still get stories like this one.

    • Jaye

      Very good message. I wish that people would take notice.

  • the rapture

    strippers and booze do not go together – stop the senseless killing of innocent people

    • LesByChoice

      Total selfish, drunken trash; typical Chicago ‘men’.

      • M'sMom

        They are males. Not men.

  • http://1530wjjg.com/2012/02/06/4-killed-on-i-80-when-wrong-way-driver-hits-car-head-on/ 4 Killed On I-80 When Wrong-Way Driver Hits Car Head-On — 1530 WJJG | Mancow Muller, Steve Dahl, Michael Savage

    […] 4 Killed On I-80 When Wrong-Way Driver Hits Car Head-On February 6, 2012 By Andrew Leave a Comment CBS Chicago […]

  • bill bored

    How can you with any conscious or in the presence of family/friends whatsoever go the WRONG WAY !!! H-E-L-L-O !!!

  • non

    Accident? One of my pet peeves is when incidents like this is called an accident.

  • The One

    This is just one of many reasons why alcohol should be banned or have strict regulations, how many people have to die to see alcohol is dangerous. The amazing thing is how the ‘Government’ considers marijuana to be one of the most dangerous drugs. Schedule 1-The drug has a high potential for abuse/The drug has no medical use/lack of accepted safety for use of the drug.same class as Gama,MDMA,Heroin,Psilocybin….etc but yet marijuana has no recorded deaths or overdoses,when in 2011 alone there were more than 10,000 incidents involving alcohol with no medical purpose and everyone seems to drink and drive anymore seems to me alcohol should be a class 1 drug.

    • Tom

      Sounds like “The One” is a dope smoker rather than a drinker. Hey, “The One”. Do a little more research and take a look at how many people get arrested for D.U.I. marijuana. And then take a look at how many accidents occur as a result of someone D.U.I. marijuana. No one should drive after drinking or smoking a joint. I get tired of the self rightiousness of the dope smokers when they wage a pointless argument of what’s worse for you.

      • The One

        Tired of drunkies who assume, I am no stoner or pot head, nor do I drink so you have that right. Maybe you should read better I said there are no deaths or overdoses, yea there are a ton or arrests but arrests are arrests not deaths of innocent people, nor did I even bring up DUI,there were no DUI in this story just a tragic ending for 4 people. when it comes down to the bottom line alcohol will always be more dangerous and cause more deaths and arrests then marijuana ever will 10,000 high people in jail are better than 10,000 people dead from drunk idiots behind the wheel. I cant remember a single article ever that more than 5 people died in a week due to marijuana, im not trying to tell people whats worse for them or better for them just putting the facts out there in our wacked out country.

  • http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/02/07/sole-survivor-of-i-80-head-on-crash-remains-hospitalized/ Sole Survivor Of I-80 Head-On Crash Remains Hospitalized « CBS Chicago

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  • sandi field

    yeah that’s what happens when you let let kids drive and drink they cause car crashes how dumb can kids be stupid kids drinking and driving these kids should feel sorry for them selves and those familys they Killed all them victims!!!!

    • Yo Mama

      Wow…Sandi….please, PLEASE go back to school. Your grammar is atrocious!

  • http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/02/08/crash-survivor-driver-screamed-are-you-guys-ready-to-die/ Crash Survivor: Driver Screamed, ‘Are You Guys Ready To Die?’ « CBS Chicago

    […] <a href="“>The Illinois State Police account of the crash suggested that the driver of the Infiniti … […]

  • Teacher

    Gustavo Vargas- once a poster child for the Easter Seals, and now a poster person for drunk driving and reckless homicide….I feel sorry for Jason Wepsiec, the innocent victim in this mess…

  • http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/02/09/3-hurt-when-wrong-way-driver-hits-car-van-on-lake-shore-drive/ 3 Hurt When Wrong-Way Driver Hits Car, Van On Lake Shore Drive « CBS Chicago

    […] Early this past Monday, Gustavo Vargas, 29, and his three passengers had just left the Skybox gentlemen’s club in Harvey when he made a U-turn and started heading east in the westbound lanes of Interstate 80 near Kedzie Avenue. Vargas slammed his Infiniti into a Ford Explorer, killing two of his passengers – Jorge Pina, 28, … […]

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