Rumble strips, extra cops added around I-55 crash site
By Susan DeMar Lafferty firstname.lastname@example.org July 29, 2014 6:16PM
In this Monday, July 21, 2014 photo, vehicles involved in an accident that killed four people are seen on Interstate 55 near Channahon, Ill., southwest of Chicago. On Tuesday, July 22, semi-truck driver Francisco Espinal Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Ind., who was involved in the crash, was charged with failure to reduce speed to prevent an accident and willfully making false entries in his logbook. (AP Photo/The Herald-News, Rob Winner) MANDATORY CREDIT ORG XMIT: ILJOL502
Updated: August 31, 2014 6:19AM
One week after two accidents in the Interstate 55 construction zone claimed five lives near Channahon, Gov. Pat Quinn directed state transportation officials and police to explore extra safety measures and urged motorists to be more attentive.
“I was deeply saddened and alarmed by the senseless tragedy on I-55 last week,” Quinn said in a press release on Monday. “I am directing the state’s agencies to take any additional steps necessary to further improve the extensive safety measures that are in place so that inattentive or reckless drivers do not cause more harm.”
In the one accident that resulted in the deaths of three women and an 11-year-old girl, Francisco Espinal Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Indiana, was charged with falsifying his log book, failure to maintain a log book and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. The investigation continues and there could be additional charges, authorities said.
All four were killed when Espinal Quiroz allegedly plowed his semi-truck into their stopped vehicles in a construction zone on northbound I-55 near Arsenal Road, Illinois State Police said. Ulrike Blopleh, 48, of Channahon; Kimberly Britton, 43, and her daughter, Piper, 11, of Urbana; and Vicky Palacios, 54, of Coal City, died at the scene. Espinal Quiroz is scheduled to be in Will County court Aug. 12.
In a second accident, 16 minutes later, two semis collided in the southbound lanes on I-55 at U.S. 6, police said. One of the drivers, Deividas Mockus, 41, of Darien, died from what police believe was a medical condition.
While the state continues to urge Congressional leaders to strengthen laws regarding continuous hours driven by truckers and to expand the use of electronic logs to track the hours they are on the road, the governor also directed the Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Toll Highway Authority and Illinois State Police to work with federal agencies and industry partners to prevent similar crashes in the future.
At the Des Plaines River bridge project over I-55, the site of last week’s crash, IDOT has installed rumble strips approaching the work zone. Overhead message boards on state highways encourage motorists to stay vigilant and notify law enforcement if they spot dangerous drivers, and more state troopers have been added around the I-55 work zone.
“This particular work zone has some of the most advanced safety features of any work zone in the state,” according to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell. They include extended work zone speed limits, signs alerting drivers of upcoming construction 20 miles from the project, and the installation of an on-site Smart Traffic Monitoring system to provide motorists real-time updates on travel times and backups.
During construction, IDOT established a detour option on Illinois 47 and Interstate 80, and postponed work on several surrounding road projects to help reduce traffic volumes on I-55. The construction project is expected to be completed in August.
“Since construction began, we have seen a significant decrease in incidents,” Tridgell said.
Before last week, there were 91 accidents in 2013 and 41 in 2014 along that stretch, resulting in 31 injuries and two deaths, he reported, noting that these numbers are “preliminary and provisional.”
Statewide, Illinois averages more than 7,000 crashes in work zones every year. In 2013, there were 28 work zone-related fatalities, including one worker. In 2012, there were 19 fatal work zone crashes, involving fatalities to 13 drivers, three passengers and three pedestrians, two of which were construction workers.
“We at IDOT remain committed to ensuring the protection of all workers and motorists in work zones – and we are redoubling our efforts in light of last week’s horrific events on I-55,” acting Transportation Secretary Erica Borggren said in a press release.
Additional state troopers have been hired to patrol work zones. At the Des Plaines River bridge project, these added patrols resulted in more than 4,000 speeding tickets and nearly 300 for distracted driving – the main factors causing accidents.
According to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Espinal Quiroz has been issued several tickets, including three for speeding — two in November 2012 and one in June, 2013. In July, 2011, he was ticketed for not having a driver’s license in his possession; in March 2009, for disregarding a traffic signal; August, 2006, for not having a license for the type of vehicle he was driving, and July, 2005, for violating a restriction on his drivers license, according to the BMV.
He also had five other minor violations.
A restriction was pending on his license for a medical exemption, which could be for diabetes, vision, or skills performance, said BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie.
This restriction indicates to police that the individual should have their Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration exemption approval in their possession when operating a commercial motor vehicle, he said.
Espinal Quiroz’ restriction was pending, because even though the exemption was approved, he has not returned to the BMV to add that restriction, Gillespie said.
Under regulations that took effect in 2004, fines for speeding in work zones are $375 for first-time offenders and $1,000 for second-time offenders, regardless of the presence of workers. If workers are present, motorists can lose their driver’s license for 90 days if they get a second violation. This year, speed-indicator boards are being used on all interstate projects with lane closures, after a significant reduction in work-zone speeds in areas where the boards were used under a pilot program last year.