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Truck driver held on $150,000 bond in crash that killed tollway worker

An Illinois Tollway employee was killed and a state trooper was seriously injured in a crash on I-88 in west suburban Aurora Monday night, authorities said. / photo by NVP News.
An Illinois Tollway employee was killed and a state trooper was seriously injured in a crash on I-88 in west suburban Aurora Monday night, authorities said. / photo by NVP News.

A truck driver accused of killing an Illinois Tollway worker and critically injuring a state trooper during a fiery crash near Aurora was ordered held on $150,000 bond Wednesday morning.

Renato V. Velasquez, 46, faces charges of operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired or fatigued, making a false report of record and duty status, and driving beyond the 14- and 11-hour rules, all felonies, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Velasquez’s attorney said his client’s blood-alcohol test indicated the trucker was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash.

However, DuPage County prosecutors alleged in court that Velasquez had been working for 37 straight hours prior to the crash.

“That’s what’s alleged. I don’t know if that’s true,” said attorney Steve Goldman, who described Velasquez as a “loving father and a loving husband.”

“He’s devastated. He’s devastated this happened,” Goldman said of his client. “It was an unfortunate and tragic accident.”

Vincent Petrella became the first Illinois Tollway employee since 2003 to be killed on the job in the crash that also critically injured Trooper Douglas J. Balder.

Balder, 38, was helping Petrella, 39, with a broken-down semitrailer truck about 9:45 p.m. Monday in the right-hand lane and shoulder, on the eastbound side of Interstate 88, according to authorities.

That’s when a second semi crashed into them, said State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond. Balder was taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, officials said. Petrella was pronounced dead at the scene.

A 13-year veteran of the tollway who began his career there as a toll collector in 2001, Petrella became an equipment operator laborer in 2005. Among his responsibilities was to work with State Police and other emergency personnel to deal with incidents on the highway, tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

She said Petrella is the first tollway employee to be killed on the job since Paul Liotine, of West Chicago, was hit by a truck in September 2003 while replacing plastic reflectors.

Bond said the lights on Balder’s squad car were activated Monday.

Petrella’s sister, Maria, said she grew up with her brother on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. That’s where she said he got one of his first jobs putting tags on cars at a valet service. She said her brother moved to northwest suburban Wheeling about seven years ago and lived there with his wife and two children: a 7-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy.

Heidi Miller, Balder’s former sister-in-law, said Balder and his wife “are amazing people” who kept in touch with her son for years.

Navy records show Balder served in Africa from October 2012 until June 2013.

“He’s a remarkable man,” Miller said.

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