Trucker in fatal crash held on $1 million bail
By Frank Vaisvilas Correspondent July 22, 2014 3:00PM
Updated: August 24, 2014 6:30AM
The driver of a semi-truck that was involved in a chain collision Monday on Interstate 55 that killed four people, including an 11-year-old girl, is being held on $1 million bail.
Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Indiana, appeared in Will County Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon via video from the county Jail. He is charged with felonies for false reporting of his driving record and failure to maintain a record of duty status, both of which carry up to three years in prison. He also was cited for failure to reduce speed to prevent an accident.
Espinal-Quiroz said through a Spanish interpreter that he understood the charges.
Assistant State’s Attorney James Long said the investigation is ongoing and other charges, including reckless homicide, are possible.
Espinal-Quiroz’s public defender, Nicole Sartori, requested a lesser bail of $100,000, saying he has no criminal record and that amount would be more appropriate with the current charges.
Circuit Court Judge Carmen Goodman agreed with Long’s request for the higher bail, citing four people dying in the crash and Espinal-Quiroz having 12 misdemeanor driving offenses going back to 1991.
Long said Espinal-Quiroz was on the road for more than 12 hours, and Illinois law caps the number of consecutive hours that a driver can be on the road at 11. He said Espinal-Quiroz was the owner of his truck and was not affiliated with a larger corporation.
If Espinal-Quiroz posts the required $100,000 bond, he will have to surrender his passport. Long said Espinal-Quiroz is a U.S. citizen but was born in Honduras.
Two fatal crashes occurred minutes apart Monday afternoon on I-55 near Channahon, Illinois State Police said. They said the semi driven by Espinal-Quiroz was speeding northbound into a construction zone near Arsenal Road when it suddenly changed lanes, causing a chain-reaction crash involving two cars and a van.
The county coroner’s office identified the dead as Piper Britton, 11, and her mother, Kimberly K. Britton, 43, both of Urbana; Vicky L. Palacios, 54, of Coal City; and Urlike Blopleh 48, of Channahon. All four were pronounced dead at the scene, the coroner’s office said.
State police Cmdr. Randy Ness said the three vehicles involved in the initial crash were a Kia, in which the Brittons were killed; a Chevrolet van with four occupants in which a front passenger died; and a Dodge Challenger in which one person was killed.
Sixteen minutes after the first crash, two semis collided in the southbound lanes at U.S. 6, police said, and the drivers were taken to a hospital with what appeared to be minor injuries but one died from what police believe was a medical condition. He was identified as Deividas Mockus, 41, of Darien, according to the coroner’s office.
Illinois State Police spokesman Monique Bond said police have had an “extensive safety initiative” in place for six months — “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow” — in cooperation with the Illinois Truckers Association “because we are aware of so many fatalities involving commercial motor vehicles.”
Bond said the goal of the program is to raise awareness about the importance of driving with adequate rest because drivers who are fatigued are more apt to be distracted or fall asleep at the wheel.
She said Espinal-Quiroz allegedly was speeding in the construction zone, passing in the left lane traffic that was backed up in the right lane, and then tried to cut into the right lane when he realized that the left lane merged into the other lane.
“We see it all the time, where people in the left lane keep going and do not want to wait, until they get to the very end and pull over into the right lane,” she said.
Contributing: Sun-Times Media, Susan DeMar Lafferty