Vincent Petrella loved his job at the tollway, especially being out on the road in weather people hated.
Petrella had pulled over on Interstate 88 in Aurora in the bitter cold Monday night for a semi that had broken down when another semi crashed into a state trooper’s squad car which then crashed into his truck in a fiery explosion. Petrella, 39 and the father of two, died at the scene. Trooper Douglas J. Balder, 38, remains in critical but stable condition.
The accident happened around 9:45 p.m. Monday about a quarter-mile east of Eola Road, state police said. The disabled semi was pulled over onto the right lane of traffic and the shoulder, and the tollway truck and the trooper’s car were behind it.
The state police car’s lights were flashing, and an illuminated arrow on the back of the truck was lit and directing traffic away from the semi, officials said.
Petrella and the trooper were helping the driver of the disabled semi when another semi hit the trooper’s car, Petrella’s truck and the stalled semi, according to state police. All three vehicles exploded in flame.
Two dozen state police cars took part in a procession escorting Balder to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he was listed in serious condition. Two Maywood police vehicles blocked traffic on Roosevelt Road as the procession sped by about 2:10 a.m. Tuesday.
The driver of the semi that caused the crash was being questioned, but no charges have been filed. The driver of the disabled semi was not injured.
Tollway executive director Kristi Lafleur released a statement saying the accident was a reminder of the dangerous conditions tollway workers find themselves in.
“They plow snow, maintain our roadways and, most importantly, are the first on the scene to help drivers in need,” she said. “It was during what should have been a routine job that things went horribly wrong.
“Vincent was an equipment operator laborer for the Illinois Tollway since 2005, but began his career as a toll collector,” she added. “Vincent was a hard-working family man and father of two who was committed to doing his best each day to serve our customers on the tollway. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Petrella’s family and his loved ones during this saddest of times.”
Petrella had honed his work ethic as a 12-year-old kid taking valet tickets in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood, his sister said.
Petrella grew up in Little Italy and moved to northwest suburban Wheeling as an adult, his sister said. He enjoyed fishing, was always quick to crack a joke and never hesitated to brag on his two young children.
Maria Petrella said funeral plans were pending. She said her brother is survived by his wife, Sandra, 7-year-old daughter Carmela and 4-year-old son Giovanni. He’s also survived by his parents, a sister and a brother.
Gov. Pat Quinn ordered the state’s flags to be flown at half-staff.
“Vincent Petrella is a hero,” Quinn said in a statement. “Both he and the injured state trooper were doing heroic work — assisting their fellow citizens in an emergency. Both men were committed to keeping our roads safe and to helping those in need. Vincent was a selfless man, dedicated to his family and his job. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and fellow employees during this difficult time.”
Source: Chicago Tribune