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Friends, family mourn tollway worker killed in Aurora crash

An Illinois Tollway employee was killed state trooper was seriously injured crash I-88 west suburban AurorMonday night authorities said. /

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.

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Updated: March 3, 2014 2:05PM

A Hanover Park man has been charged in connection with a fatal crash Monday on Interstate 88 in Aurora that killed an Illinois Tollway employee and seriously injured a state trooper.

Renato V. Velasquez, 46, was charged with operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired or fatigued, making a false report of a record and duty status, driving beyond the 14-hour rule and driving beyond the 11-hour rule, all felonies, according to Illinois State Police.

He was also charged with failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident and failing to yield to emergency vehicles, state police said.

Velasquez, of Hanover Park, was taken to the DuPage County Jail and will appear for a bond hearing Wednesday.

In memory

Flags across Illinois flew at half-staff Tuesday in memory of Vincent Petrella, 39, of Wheeling, who was killed while assisting the driver of a disabled semi-tractor trailer with the help of an Illinois State Trooper when the fatal crash occurred around 9:45 p.m. Monday, Illinois State Police said.

Petrella and Trooper Douglas Balder were pulled over on Interstate 88, just east of Eola Road in Aurora, when a semi-tractor trailer apparently ignored their flashing emergency lights and crashed into their stopped vehicles. The crash caused a chain reaction, with at least one vehicle starting on fire, according to Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond.

Bond said both men were inside their vehicles when the crash occurred.

Petrella was pronounced dead at the scene. Bond said Balder was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and then transferred to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he remains in critical but stable condition.

The driver of the disabled semi-tractor trailer was not injured, Bond said. The driver of the truck that caused the accident was treated and released from the hospital.

Scott’s Law

Tollway officials and the Illinois State Police are using the tragedy to remind drivers to yield to emergency vehicles. Scott’s Law, also known as the “Move Over Law,” requires all drivers to yield to emergency vehicles. It was named after Scott Gillen of the Chicago Fire Department, who was struck and killed by an intoxicated driver while assisting at a crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway in 2000.

The law, passed in 2002, also increases the penalties for drivers who fail to yield to emergency vehicles, or who cause injury to public safety or service personnel at roadside emergency scenes. Offenders can expect to be fined up to $10,000, and have their driver’s license suspended for up to two years.

Drivers are reminded to slow down, and yield the right-of-way by changing into a lane not immediately adjacent to an emergency vehicle. Drivers should be prepared to pull over to the right-hand side of the roadway and stop if directed to do so. The legislation also applies to all vehicles displaying flashing lights, including highway maintenance vehicles.

According to Wendy Abrams, chief of Communications for the Illinois Tollway, the last time an Illinois Tollway road worker was killed on duty was in September 2003. Paul Liotine, of West Chicago, was replacing reflective road markers on Interstate Highway 294 when he was struck and killed by a semi-tractor trailer.

Last March, Illinois State Trooper James Sauter was killed while parked on the left-hand shoulder of southbound Interstate 294 in the northwest suburbs when a Wisconsin truck driver allegedly fell asleep behind the wheel, veered off the road and crashed his vehicle into the rear of Sauter’s squad car.

That truck driver, Andrew Bokelman, faces criminal charges and has been sued by Sauter’s widow

‘A hero’

According to tollway officials, Petrella was an operator laborer for the tollway since 2005 and began his career as a toll collector in 2001.

Illinois Tollway roadway maintenance workers serve customers across the 286-mile system of tollways 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They plow snow, maintain the roadways and, most importantly, are the first on the scene to help drivers in need, Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Vincent was a hard-working family man and father of two who was committed to doing his best each day to serve our customers on the Tollway,” Lafleur said. “On behalf of the Tollway Board and the entire Illinois Tollway, we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of one of our own ... It was during what should have been a routine job that things went horribly wrong.”

Gov. Pat Quinn said the accident on I-88 was a tragedy. He ordered the state’s flags to be flow at half-staff “so all Illinois citizens can be reminded of Vincent’s life of service and sacrifice.”

“Vincent Petrella is a hero,” he said. “Both he and the injured State Trooper were doing heroic work, assisting their fellow citizens in an emergency. Both men were committed to keeping our roads safe and to helping those in need.”

Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau offered his condolences to both victims’ families.

“These first responders are dedicated to services and risk their lives every day to keep citizens and roads safe,” he said.

Maria Petrella said she grew up with her brother Vincent on Taylor Street in the Little Italy neighborhood in Chicago. That’s where she said he got one of his first jobs putting tags on cars at a valet service.

“He’s been working all his life, since he was little,” Maria Petrella said.

Maria Petrella 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.

She said she learned of the crash after 11 p.m. Monday, and she didn’t know how to tell her parents.

“They’re staying strong,” Maria Petrella said.

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