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Local News

Bond for truck driver in fatal crash set at $1 million

JOLIET – A $1 million bond was set Tuesday for the semitrailer driver who crashed into stopped vehicles in a Interstate 55 construction zone killing four women.

Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Indiana, appeared in bond court via closed circuit video at the Will County Courthouse. He was charged with two class 4 felonies that included falsifying his log book and failing to maintain log book records.

Assistant Will County State's Attorney Jim Long said other charges, including reckless homicide, could be considered as state police continue the investigation of the crash.

Police also cited Espinal-Quiroz for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.

Long said Espinal-Quiroz allegedly started work at 2:30 a.m. early Monday, instead of 6:30 a.m. as his log book falsely indicated. That means the driver had clocked in about 12 hours when the accident occurred. Truck drivers are limited to a maximum 11-hour workday, according to federal law.

Espinal-Quiroz's has a record of 12 traffic violations dating back to 1991, which was considered before bond was set.

Nicole Sartori, with the public defender's office, requested Judge Carmon Goodman grant Espinal-Quiroz a lesser bond of $100,000 because of his willingness to give up his U.S. passport. Espinal-Quiroz is a U.S. citizen but a native of Honduras, she said.

Sartori declined to comment after the hearing.

The accident occurred in the I-55 construction zone at the Des Plaines River Bridge. Four people were killed when Espinal-Quiroz's semitrailer rear-ended three vehicles that had backed up in the northbound lanes near Arsenal Road at 2:17 p.m. They are: Kimberly K. Britton, 43, and Piper Britton, 11, from Urbana, along with Vicky L. Palaciocs, 54, of Coal City and Ulrike P. Blopleh, 48, of Channahon, were pronounced dead at 4 p.m., according to the Will County Corner's office.

Blopleh was in the passenger seat of a Chevy van when the accident occurred, family representative Steve Flynn said. Blopleh's eldest daughter was driving and two sons were sitting in the rear passenger seats.

One of the sons was injured and treated at Loyola Medical Center, but he is in stable condition.

The family was surrounded by supporters of its congregation Tuesday morning.

"They were very much struggling early this morning," Steve Flynn said. "The family are members of Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. Members of the Wilmington congregation and some from Shorewood have been coming to offer their support."

The driver of the semitrailer, Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Indiana, was booked into Will County jail. Illinois State Police arrested Espinal-Quiroz for a log violation, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, and for violating state motor safety laws. He is scheduled to appear in bond court at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Will County Courthouse.

ISP Master Sgt. Fred Rivera said police inspected the driver's log book to find he was falsifying entries.
"We think he could have been over on his hours," Rivera said Tuesday.

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 coroner's office.

Witnesses told police that the semitrailer in the first accident was traveling at a high rate of speed – higher than the posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour – passing stopped cars in the left lane.

"The reduced speeds are well-marked for miles," state police District Commander Randy Ness said at Monday night.

Then the semitrailer abruptly switched lanes and rear-ended the three vehicles, which were stopped because traffic was backed up due to construction work on the Des Plaines River Bridge, according to authorities.

The accident occurred in the northbound lanes immediately south of mile marker 243.5 near the ExxonMobil plant.

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