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Prosecutors: Trucker Had Been Working 37 Hours Before Fatal Wreck

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WHEATON, Ill. (CBS) – Prosecutors said a truck driver accused of causing a fiery crash that killed a tollway worker and critically injured a state trooper had been on the job more than a day-and-a-half, with less than four hours of sleep.

Renato Velasquez, 46, has been charged with four felony violations of trucking regulations, including driving while fatigued, falsifying truck driving logs, and driving more than 14 consecutive hours.

Renato V. Velasquez. (Credit: State Police)

Renato V. Velasquez. (Credit: State Police)

Velasquez was driving his big rig on the Reagan Memorial Tollway on Monday night, when he slammed into an Illinois State Police squad car, an Illinois Tollway maintenance vehicle, and another semi-tractor trailer — all of which were stopped on the shoulder at the time.

Trooper Douglas Balder and Tollway worker Vincent Petrella were trying to remove a stalled 18-wheeler from the tollway when Velasquez plowed into them. Petrella, 39, died at the scene. Balder, 38, suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs, bleeding on the brain, and third-degree burns to 15 percent of his body.

At a bond hearing in DuPage County on Wednesday, prosecutors said Velasquez had been working for 37 hours at the time of the crash, and had been driving for 28 hours, but had slept only 3 ½ hours during that time. Velasquez started his shift on Sunday at 8 a.m., loaded his truck at 2:30 p.m., and was on the road by 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said Velasquez drove a load of cargo to Nebraska, then went to Iowa to pick up a new load, and headed back to the Chicago area. He was still driving at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, when he crashed into Petrella’s and Balder’s vehicles on I-88 near Eola Road, in Aurora.

“Our investigation shows about that there was about a 37-hour, or 38-hour period where he was on duty, with 3 ½ hours of sleep, in violation of the law. The law requires 10 hours of sleep after 14 hours of driving, and that didn’t happen,” Berlin said after Vasquez’s bond hearing on Wednesday.

A judge set Velasquez’s bond at $150,000.

Velasquez’s truck was hauling steel coils weighing 14,000 pounds each.

Illinois State Police have said the flashing arrow on Petrella’s truck was on at the time of the crash, but Velasquez claimed he did not see them.

State Police Director Hiram Grau said the wreck could have been avoided if Velasquez had followed the law requiring motorists to slow down and change lanes to place at least one lane between them and any emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road with its emergency lights on.

“If you see those flashing lights, you see emergency workers, you get as far away from them as you possibly can,” he said.

Petrella is survived by a wife and two children. He had been working for the Illinois Toll Highway Authority since 2001. He started as a toll collector, and most recently was working as an operator laborer since 2005.

Tollway officials said Petrella was a family man committed to doing his best every day to serve tollway customers.

Velasquez has a wife and four children. His family showed up for his court appearance, but declined to speak to reporters.

His attorney, Steven Goldman, said he doesn’t know if it’s true that Velasquez had been behind the wheel for more than a day before crashing on I-88.

“The situation is it was an unfortunate, tragic accident,” Goldman said. “A blood test was done. A urine test was done. There’s actually no drugs in his system whatsoever. It was just an unfortunate accident. He’s devastated, and his family is devastated for him.”

Velasquez has one prior conviction for delivering cocaine in 2001.

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