Vincent Petrella loved his job at the tollway, especially being out on the road in weather people hated.
"He just loved it," said his sister Maria Petrella. "He always looked forward to it when it came to snow. He was just a hard worker."
Petrella had pulled over on Interstate 88 in Aurora in the bitter cold Monday night for a semi that had broken down when another semi crashed into a state trooper's squad car which then crashed into his truck in a fiery explosion. Petrella, 39 and the father of two, died at the scene. Trooper Douglas J. Balder, 38, remains in critical but stable condition.
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"He was a good man," Maria Petrella said. "Too young to go. Too young."
Officials Tuesday night charged Renato V. Velasquez, 46, of Hanover Park in connection with the accident.
Velasquez was charged with operating a commercial vehicle while impaired/fatigued, filing a false report of record and duty status, driving more than 14 hours and driving beyond the 11 hour rule, all class four felonies, according to state police officials.
He was also charged with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and failure to yield to stationary emergency vehicles in violation of Scott's Law. A bond hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in DuPage County Court.
The accident happened around 9:45 p.m. Monday about a quarter-mile east of Eola Road, state police said. The disabled semi was pulled over onto the right lane of traffic and the shoulder, and the tollway truck and the trooper's car were behind it.
The state police car's lights were flashing, and an illuminated arrow on the back of the truck was lit and directing traffic away from the semi, officials said.
Petrella and the trooper were helping the driver of the disabled semi when another semi hit the trooper's car, Petrella's truck and the stalled semi, according to state police. All three vehicles exploded in flame.
Two dozen state police cars took part in a procession escorting Balder to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he was listed in serious condition. Two Maywood police vehicles blocked traffic on Roosevelt Road as the procession sped by about 2:10 a.m. Tuesday.
The driver of the semi that caused the crash was being questioned, but no charges have been filed. The driver of the disabled semi was not injured.
Paul Darrah, a spokesman for the DuPage County state’s attorney's office, said no charges had been filed as of Tuesday morning as authorities continue to investigate the crash.
Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau said Balder "is expected to make it." Balder has been with the Illinois state police since 2007 and had served several tours of duty while in the military.
“I offer condolences to Vincent Petrella’s family and to the entire Illinois Tollway," Grau said. "It is also with deep sadness that we offer our support and deepest sympathies to the family of Trooper Douglas Balder, who remains in serious condition and is expected to recover. These first responders are dedicated to service and risk their lives every day to keep citizens and roads safe.”
Grau reminded motorists to stay clear of emergency vehicles. "Scott's Law was passed for a reason," he said at a news conference. "You see those emergency lights, you get away as far as you can."
Scott's Law, also known as the Move Over Law, requires a driver to change lanes, if it is safe to do so, or to reduce speed and proceed with caution when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle displaying flashing warning lights.
The law was named in memory of Chicago Fire Department Lt. Scott Gillen, who was fatally injured by a drunken driver while working at a crash on the Bishop Ford Freeway in 2000. Gillen, 37, was the father of five children.
Tollway executive director Kristi Lafleur released a statement saying the accident was a reminder of the dangerous conditions tollway workers find themselves in.
"They plow snow, maintain our roadways and, most importantly, are the first on the scene to help drivers in need," she said. "It was during what should have been a routine job that things went horribly wrong.
"Vincent was an equipment operator laborer for the Illinois Tollway since 2005, but began his career as a toll collector," she added. "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. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Petrella's family and his loved ones during this saddest of times."