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Trucker Pleads Not Guilty In Tollway Crash That Killed IDOT Worker

(CBS) -- A truck driver has pleaded not guilty to charges he falsified his logbook, after a crash that killed an IDOT worker and left a state trooper in a coma.

Renato Velasquez, 46, remained quiet as his attorney Steven Goldman did the talking, entering a not guilty plea for his client.

Velasquez has been charged with four felony violations of trucking regulations, including driving while fatigued, falsifying truck driving logs, and driving more than 14 consecutive hours.

Renato Velasquez
Renato Velasquez (Credit: Illinois State Police)

Defense attorney Steven Goldman said very little as he and his client left the courthouse Monday morning.

"As expected, he's concerned," Goldman said.

Velasquez was driving his big rig on the Reagan Memorial Tollway on Jan. 27, when he slammed into an Illinois State Police squad car, an Illinois Tollway service vehicle, and another semi-tractor trailer – all of which were stopped on the shoulder at the time.

Trooper Douglas Balder and Tollway worker Vincent Petrella were trying to remove a stalled 18-wheeler from the tollway when Velasquez plowed into them.

Investigating officers said a truck ahead of Velasquez veered out of the right-hand lane to avoid the stopped vehicles, but Velasquez kept going straight ahead into the tollway service truck.

Petrella, 39, died at the scene. Balder, 38, managed to crawl from the burning wreckage, but not before he suffered serious injuries – including broken ribs, bleeding on the brain, and third-degree burns.

Balder's wife attended Monday's hearing, surrounded by her husband's colleagues. Balder's boss talked about the trooper's struggle for life.

"He is still in intensive care, but every day he is improving just a little bit," said Illinois State Police Capt. Patrick Kimes. "It's tremendously difficult. We're very thankful that he survived this incident."
Until recently, Balder had been in a medically-induced coma.

Velasquez is free on $150,000 bond and has been ordered to surrender his passport. The next hearing was scheduled for April 14 in Wheaton.

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