Bus Co. Says It Didn't Know of Driver's Troubled Past

David Soto had prior convictions for sexual assault, cocaine in his system at time of crash, prosecutors say

By Charlie Wojciechowski, Lisa Balde and Alex Perez
|  Thursday, May 5, 2011  |  Updated 11:28 PM CDT
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Witness Describes Accident Scene

David Soto, 47, was charged with aggravated DUI after striking and killing a woman Tuesday near NBC Tower, Chicago police said Thursday.

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Witness Describes Accident Scene

Woman in her mid-20s was struck by a bus while crossing the street.
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The bus company that employs a driver accused of running over a talented artist this week said it wasn't aware of the driver's criminal past.

In a statement from Pontarelli Group Charter, a spokesman said it is cooperating with authorities in their investigation of the incident.

"The whole Pontarelli family is deeply saddened by this tragedy, and our thoughts are with this young girl's family," said spokesman Arthur J. Rento.

One of the company's drivers, 47-year-old David Soto, was ordered held without bond Thursday in connection with the Tuesday evening incident that killed Justyna Palka.

Prosecutors said Soto's urine showed traces of cocaine after the crash.  While he was being held, authorities ran his name in a database and found that he was wanted in connection with a sexual assault investigation involving at least one relative at his home on the 6800 block of West Berwyn.

His criminal record also includes two convictions for sex crimes.  In 1982, he was convicted for the attempted rape of a 17-year-old and spent four years in jail.  In 1993, he was convicted of the aggravated criminal sexual assault of a 6-year-old relative and spent another eight years in custody.

Now Soto, a father of four who is currently separated from his wife, is charged with one count of aggravated DUI in connection with Tuesday's accident, police said.

As Palka is remembered by her friends and family as a remarkable talent, at least one organization is offering them support.

"When I heard the details of the crash, you know, the driver heard two bumps, it just crushes me.  I know.  I know what it's like.  I family wasn't here to hear those details," said Lorraine Wesolowski, a spokeswoman for The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists. She said her daughter was killed in an eerily-similar crash 11 years ago.

A tribute page on Facebook was launched Wednesday morning in Palka's memory.

Soto is due back in court May 24.

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