A Hanover Park truck driver charged in a fatal crash on I-88 this week that killed an Illinois Tollway employee and injured a state trooper spent significant time in prison on drug charges.
NBC 5 has learned that Renato V. Velasquez was arrested in January of 2001 for selling two kilos of cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison.
Velasquez was behind the wheel of tractor trailer near Eola Road in west suburban Aurora when officials say he smashed into Tollway worker Vincent Petrella and Trooper Douglas J. Balder. Flames engulfed all the involved vehicles.
A judge Wednesay ordered Velasquez on $150,000 bond. He's charged with Class 4 felonies of operating a CMV while impaired/fatigued, false report of record and duty status, driving beyond the 14 hour rule, and driving beyond the 11 hour rule. He was also charged with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, and failure to yield to stationary emergency vehicles (Scott's Law).
Velasquez's driving record includes convictions for speeding and improper backing on a one-way street, records show. He also was involved in a collision resulting in property damage in March 2013.
In court Wednesday, 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 that Velasquez had been working for 36 hours on only 3-1/2 hours of sleep prior to the crash, a run that took him to Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa before heading back to Chicago.
"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."
But DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said it was an "accident that didn't have to happen."
"Driving tired is as bad a driving impaired or driving drunk," Berlin said.
Petrella and Balder were assisting the driver of a disabled tractor trailer in the eastbound lanes of the interstate at about 9:45 p.m. Monday when the accident occurred.
Petrella became the first Illinois Tollway employee since 2003 to be killed on the job. The 39-year-old father of two was an equipment operator with the Illinois Tollway since 2005 and began his career as a toll collector, officials said.
Balder, 38, remained hospitalized Wednesday at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood in a medically-induced coma. The father of two has been a Navy reservist since 1994 and was given a hero's welcome home last summer after returning home to Oswego following his third tour in Africa.