Wife of toll worker killed in Aurora-area crash files lawsuit

The wife of an Illinois Tollway worker who died in a fiery January crash on the Reagan Memorial Tollway near Aurora is suing the truck driver charged with causing the crash and the trucking company that employed him.

Sandra Petrella of Park Ridge, whose husband Vincenzo Petrella was killed in the Jan. 27 crash on I-88, filed the negligence and wrongful death suit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court.

“These semi-tractor trailer trucks being operated by sleepy drivers turn into missiles on our highways and are just as dangerous as a loaded gun,” attorney Thomas Demetrio said in a statement from the Corboy & Demetrio law firm.

About 9:45 p.m. on Jan. 27, the 39-year-old Petrella, a Tollway employee since 2001, was assisting a disabled semi truck on the eastbound side of I-88 near Eola Road, when a second semi crashed into the parked vehicles.

Illinois State Trooper Douglas J. Balder, 38, who also had stopped at the scene, was critically injured in the crash. All of the vehicles were parked in the right-hand lane and shoulder of the tollway and had their emergency lights activated, according to the suit.

The driver of the second semi, Renato V. Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park, was charged Jan. 28 with operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired or fatigued, making a false report of a record and duty status, and driving beyond the 14- and 11-hour rules, according to Illinois State Police.

DuPage County prosecutors allege Velasquez had been working for 37 straight hours prior to the crash. He was ordered held on a $150,000 bail but was released after paying $15,000 bond on Jan. 29, according to the DuPage County Sheriff’s office.

Velasquez and the trucking company, DND International, were named as defendants in Monday’s suit.

Petrella, known as “Enzo, left behind his wife, a 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, according to the lawsuit.

He was the first Illinois Tollway employee since 2003 to be killed on the job, the agency reported at the time.

“Enzo was well-loved by co-workers, family and friends, and now his children have to grow up without their father,” attorney Matthew Jenkins said in the statement.

Velasquez, driving while sleep-deprived and fatigued, failed to keep a proper lookout, and failed to yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles, among other things, according to the suit.

It also claims DND International was negligent because it allowed one of its drivers to operate the truck while fatigued, without the required rest; failed to inspect or verify Velasquez’s logbooks; and failed to verify Velasquez was in compliance with federal regulations.

“It is our hope that over-the-road truck drivers and their employers take very good note of this lawsuit and the reasons for it and follow the federal guidelines scrupulously; and, thus, avoid sleep deprivation and the careless loss of life that this wonderful family is going to have to live with forever,” Demetrio said in the statement.

The four-count suit is seeking more than $200,000 in damages.

A representative from DND International would not comment on the suit Monday afternoon.

It is the second suit filed against Velasquez and DND International as a result from the crash. On Feb. 10, a six-count suit alleging negligence was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of Balder and his wife, Kimberli Balder.