Trucker Accused Of Speeding, Driving 12 Hours Before Deadly I-55 Wreck
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) — Bail was set at $1 million Tuesday afternoon for a truck driver accused of falsifying his log books and driving approximately 12 hours before causing a wreck that killed four people on Interstate 55 on Monday.
Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51 of Leesburg, Indiana – was charged with keeping a false log book and willfully entering false information, according to Illinois State Police. Authorities said his semi-trailer truck was speeding in the northbound lanes of I-55, and abruptly changed lanes in a construction zone near Arsenal Road, causing a chain reaction crash around 2:30 p.m. The truck crushed two cars and a van. Three women and an 11-year-old girl were killed.
The Will County Coroner’s office has identified the victims who died as 48-year-old Ulrike P. Blopleh, of Channahon; 54-year-old Vicky L. Palacios, of Coal City; and 43-year-old Kimberly K. Britton and 11-year-old Piper Britton, both of Urbana.
Espinal-Quiroz appeared for a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon at the Will County Courthouse, where prosecutors said he was driving at least 15 mph faster than the posted construction zone speed limit at the time of the crash, and there was no evidence that he applied the brakes before the crash, although it was not clear if he fell asleep at the wheel.
However, prosecutors said investigators have determined Espinal-Quiroz falsified his log books to show he’d started driving at 6 a.m. Monday, when he’d actually started driving at 2:30 a.m., and had been on the road approximately 12 hours at the time of the crash.
According to court records, Espinal-Quiroz has received at least 12 traffic citations since 1991, including three speeding tickets. According to a background check, he operates a single-driver operation called Espinal Trucking, based in Leesburg, Indiana. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspected his truck once in the past two years, and found no issues. Indiana State Police said there have been no accidents involving his truck in the past 10 years.
In addition to the three women and the girl who were killed, at least three other people were injured in the crash. About 20 minutes after that wreck, two semi-trailer trucks collided in the southbound lanes of I-55 about three miles away. Both drivers were taken to the hospital, where one later died, apparently from a medical condition.
He was identified as 41-year-old Deividas Mockus, of Darien.
Gov. Pat Quinn said he’s asking state officials to look into the crash to determine what more could be done to prevent further tragedies.
Quinn said it’s vital for all drivers – especially truckers – to slow down while driving in construction zones. He also noted the work that is being done on I-55 at Arsenal Road is meant to address safety concerns there.
“We, several years ago, made the decision to make an investment to change that particular intersection. We’re also working on the bridge there. I’m going to have our Department of Transportation look at every single part of that project, to make sure that we accelerate everything we can to improve safety,” Quinn said.
He said he believes Illinois State Police are doing a good job enforcing laws that impose stiff penalties for speeding in construction zones, though he said he’ll also talk to state police about whether more can be done to reduce such accidents.
The governor spoke with reporters at the Circle Interchange in downtown Chicago, where he signed a $1 billion capital construction bill to repair roads in Illinois.