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Semitrailer driver pleads not guilty to charges related to fatal I-55 crash

JOLIET – An Indiana semitrailer driver pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges related to last month's fatal chain-reaction crash on Interstate 55 near Arsenal Road.

Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Indiana, faces several charges after he was arrested on charged he caused a multi-vehicle collision July 21 that led to the deaths of five people, including one child. Another person died in a second collision.

On Tuesday, Espinal-Quiroz formally entered his not guilty plea during an appearance at the Will County Courthouse. He is being held in lieu of a $1 million bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 9. Espinal-Quiroz’s attorneys said they expect all evidence to be turned over by Aug. 26.

“Our position is that this was a tragic accident,” said Sarah Toney, one of his attorneys.

Charges against Espinal-Quiroz include falsifying a log book and failing to maintain a log book. Police also cited him for failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident. Espinal-Quiroz has a history of traffic violations that date back to 1991 and include three speeding tickets since 2012.

His attorneys said they hope his charges are not upgraded. Assistant Will County State’s Attorney Jim Long has previously said that other charges, including reckless homicide, are possible as state police continue their investigation.

During Tuesday's hearing, a judge granted a motion to preserve evidence that was filed Aug. 7 by Espinal-Quiroz’s attorneys. His attorneys said they were concerned about evidence being destroyed during tests.

According to the motion, evidence included interviews, recordings, pictures, vehicles involved in the accident and blood and urine samples taken from Espinal-Quiroz.

His attorneys said they were not aware of any results from blood tests conducted or if reconstruction of the accident was completed. Assistant Will County State’s Attorney Mike Fitzgerald said crash reconstruction is ongoing, as is the state police’s investigation of the accident.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suspended the operating authority registration of Espinal-Quiroz, who does business as Espinal Trucking, according to an Aug. 8 news release.

The suspension was the result of his failure to cooperate in an investigation of the carrier’s compliance with federal safety regulations. FMCSA officials said investigators were denied access to company records by an Espinal Trucking representative.

Authorities said Espinal-Quiroz was traveling 15 mph over the speed limit at the I-55 construction site July 21 when he slammed into vehicles at 2:17 p.m.

Those who died on the day of the first collision were Kimberly K. Britton, 43, and Piper Britton, 11, of Urbana; Vicky L. Palaciocs, 54, of Coal City; and Ulrike P. Blopleh, 48, of Channahon. Timothy Osburn, 64, of Urbana, also was involved in the first collision and was pronounced dead Aug. 6.

A second collision occurred at 2:33 p.m. July 21 in the southbound lanes near Route 6, when one semitrailer rear-ended another. Deividas Mockus, 41, of Darien, was killed as a result of that collision.

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