JOLIET – Monday’s fatal chain-reaction crash on Interstate 55 near Arsenal Road involving a semitrailer should be a wake-up call for state and local officials, Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes said.
“You’d think people would rise up and cry, ‘Enough is enough here,’ ” Hayes said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we do have an attitude that as time marches on, we go about our daily, busy lives and move on from there.”
Five people died in two separate crashes involving three semitrailers Monday afternoon.
The semitrailer driver is charged with starting the first chain-reaction crash that resulted in the deaths of three women and a child was closing in on a 12-hour workday when the collision occurred at 2:17 p.m. Monday, according to the Will County State’s Attorney’s office.
Killed were Kimberly K. Britton, 43, and Piper Britton, 11, of Urbana, along with Vicky L. Palaciocs, 54, of Coal City and Ulrike P. Blopleh, 48, of Channahon.
A second collision happened at 2:33 p.m. in the southbound lanes near Route 6 when one semitrailer rear-ended another. Killed in that accident was Deividas Mockus, 41, of Darien, who was pronounced dead at 4:29 p.m. at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, according to the Will County Coroner’s Office.
Monday’s accidents highlight the need for a regional approach to “serious traffic problems” in Will County, Channahon Village President Joe Cook said.
The same construction zone was the site of 12 crashes with injuries and two fatalities in 2013. The I-55 construction, which has reduced traffic down to one lane each way for the past two summer construction seasons, needs to be completed sooner rather than later, Cook said.
“The hazard percentage increases the longer it takes,” he said.
$1 million bond for truck driver
In court Tuesday, the semitrailer driver, Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Indiana, was ordered to be held in lieu of a $1 million bond. He was charged with two class 4 felonies that included falsifying a log book and failing to maintain a log book.
Assistant Will County State’s Attorney Jim Long said other charges, including reckless homicide, are a possibility as state police continue to investigate the crash. Police also cited Espinal-Quiroz for failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident.
“I have to stress … we are very early on in a fluid investigation,” Will County State’s Attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie said. “Other charges are possible.”
Espinal-Quiroz allegedly falsified entries in his logbook to make it appear he was behind the wheel for a shorter period of time than allowed by federal law. He told officers at the scene he started work at 2:30 a.m. Monday, instead of 6:30 a.m., as falsely indicated in his logbook.
The crash happened at 2:17 p.m. – about 12 hours after the start of his shift – but federal law limits truck drivers to a maximum 11-hour continuous workday. Authorities said Espinal-Quiroz was driving 15 mph over the speed limit posted at the I-55 construction site when he slammed into the vehicles.
As a condition of his bond, Espinal-Quiroz, a U.S. citizen who is a native of Honduras, is required to surrender his passport. Nicole Sartori, with the public defender’s office, was denied her request to grant Espinal-Quiroz a lesser bond of $100,000. Sartori declined to comment after the hearing.
When setting the $1 million bond, Judge Carmen Goodman considered Espinal-Quiroz’s history of traffic violations that dates back to 1991. Of the 12 traffic violations, three included speeding and five included commercial vehicle violations.
Illinois Trucking Association President Matt Hart said he and association members take the federal regulations on hour limits “very seriously.”
Hart said the association also keeps its member drivers up-to-date of construction and alternative routes they can use to avoid hazardous areas, including construction zones. The association puts out weekly and monthly newsletters, he said.
“Many of our members are taking the alternative route. They’re taking Illinois Route 47. Yeah, it costs them an extra six or seven miles, which costs them more in fuel and more in time, but it’s worth it,” Hart said. “Most of our carriers are feeling that it’s worth it to bypass that area, but not everybody can.”
Hayes said he’d rather something be done to address the truck traffic congestion in Will County sooner rather than later.
“That includes shaking the money tree to fund some much-needed construction projects,” said Hayes, noting a widening of major highways, among other efforts, could help. “We have a dynamic that is not experienced in any other location in the state. Businesses in the area have put business ahead of safety and this is ending result that we see.”
ISP spokeswoman Monique Bond said the state agency has “aggressively been working” on multiple safety campaigns and enforcement details to address [commercial motor vehicle] driver safety at all construction zones.
The safety measures, public awareness, law enforcement presence, advance warnings to reduce speeds, advance warnings on lane reductions are in place and for the most part are effective, she said in an email.
“This construction zone is no different than most,” she said in an email. “... When drivers neglect to adhere to the safety warnings, the outcome can result in tragedy.”