NTSB probable cause hearing to focus on Illinois crash that killed worker

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Monday, February 08, 2016

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board are expected Tuesday to announce the cause of a 2014 fatal crash in Illinois in which one truck driver hit a string of parked emergency vehicles that were assisting a disabled tractor-trailer.

The results of the Jan. 27, 2014, crash on the eastbound lane of Interstate 88 near Naperville, Ill., claimed the life of one Illinois tollway worker – Vince Petrella – and seriously injured Illinois State Police Trooper Doug Balder.

The board, which is tasked by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S. as well as significant accidents in other modes of transportation, will meet at 9:30 a.m. EST in Washington, D.C. In addition to determining probable cause of the crash, the board will also pass on any safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.

According to the NTSB investigation, at about 7:45 p.m. on the night of the crash, a tractor-trailer became disabled in the right lane of I-88, also referred to as the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway. Balder and Petrella arrived in separate vehicles to render aid to the stalled tractor. A tow truck was also called to the scene.

At 9:20 p.m., a 2004 Freightliner and flatbed trailer failed to yield to the stopped vehicles in the right lane and collided with them from behind. The impact caused the tollway help truck to collide with the back of the Volvo, which in turn collided with the back of the heavy-duty tow truck.

As a result of the accident, a post-crash fire consumed the ISP patrol car and spread to the flatbed semitrailer of the Freightliner combination vehicle, near where the patrol car came to rest.

At the time of the crash, the carrier in operation of the Freightliner, DND International of Naperville, as well as the carrier in operation of the disabled Volvo, Michael’s Cartage of Bridgeview, Ill., had alerts in multiple BASIC categories on which a carrier is measured, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety Measurement System.

The alerts for DND International were in the areas of unsafe driving and hours of service compliance. The alerts for Michael’s Cartage were in the areas of unsafe driving, hours of service compliance, driver fitness, and vehicle maintenance.

The truck driver, 48-year-old Renato Velasquez, was convicted in 2015 of operating a motor vehicle in a fatigued state, failure to comply with hours-of-service requirements, failure to yield to emergency vehicles, and driving too fast for conditions. He was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2015.

According to published accounts of the criminal trial, Velasquez was driving or on duty between 18 and 20 of the 26 hours leading up to the fatal crash. Prosecutors argued he fell asleep at the wheel as he approached the disabled semi, which was surrounded by Balder’s squad car, Petrella’s tollway truck and a tow truck, all of which had their emergency flashers engaged. Velasquez was hauling three 14,000-pound rolls of coiled steel, one of which broke free from the trailer upon impact and struck Petrella’s truck. The collision also ignited a fire in Balder’s squad car, resulting in severe burns to the trooper.

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