CHICAGO (CBS) — A woman described by friends and family as a “supermom,” and another mom who was driving to work on her day off were among the five people killed Monday afternoon in a pair of crashes on Interstate 55.
Illinois State Police said a semi-trailer truck was speeding, and abruptly changed lanes in a construction zone, 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.
The trucker – Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, of Leesburg, Indiana – was charged with keeping a false log book and willfully entering false information, police said. He was due for a bond hearing Tuesday morning in Will County. He also was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. Espinal-Quiroz also underwent blood and urine testing to check for drugs or alcohol, although results of those tests were not immediately available.
Steve Flynn, an elder at Blopleh’s church — the Willimington Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses — said Blopleh was always smiling and outgoing, and was extremely dedicated to her family and the church.
“Uli was a supermom,” Flynn said. “She was the home. The whole home, the whole family revolved around her. She was a great mother. She was a very dedicated servant of Jehovah.”
Meantime, Palacios’ family also was mourning the loss of an equally dedicated mother. Her daughter, Nicole, said she raised four children and three stepchildren almost entirely by herself.
“She’s the best woman I know,” Nicole Palacios said. “She’s very strong-willed and outspoken, and that’s why everyone liked her, because she spoke her mind. … If you didn’t like her, she didn’t rally care. That’s just the kind of person she was, but everyone loved her.”
Flynn said Blopleh’s 16-year-old daughter was the one driving the family car at the time of the crash, and wishes she had been in the passenger’s seat, instead of her mother.
“We know Uli would not have wanted that. Nobody in the passenger’s seat was going to survive that one,” Flynn said.
Blopleh also was an active volunteer with the church, and helped build a number of “kingdom halls” for Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations — putting to use her skills with carpentry, roofing, and logistics.
“I have no idea where she got all that time to do it, but she was very outgoing and dedicated,” Flynn said.
Three of Blopleh’s four children were with her at the time of the crash, including her teenage daughter who was driving the car. Her son, Andre, was airlifted to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he was placed on a respirator. Flynn said he was expected to recover, and might have the ventilator removed Tuesday afternoon.
Flynn said all three Blopleh children were taken to different hospitals after the crash, and volunteers from the church took two of the children home after they were released, so Blolpleh’s husband, Moses, could be with their son at Loyola.
Several minutes after the crash that killed Blopleh, Palacios, and Kimberly and Piper Britton, 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.