CHICAGO — A 53-year-old Indiana trucker from Leesburg could spend less than three more years in prison for a 2014 crash that killed five people on Interstate 55.
Will County Judge David Carlson on Thursday sentenced Francisco Espinal-Quiroz to 10 years in prison for the crash. Under state sentencing laws and credit for time served, Espinal-Quiroz’s remaining time in prison will be closer to 2 1/2 years.
The trucker pleaded guilty in November to five counts of reckless homicide and one count of falsifying his driving log — offenses that could have been eligible for probation or up to 28 years in prison. As part of his plea, prosecutors agreed to seek no more than a 15-year sentence.
“I’m so sorry,” Espinal-Quiroz said as he faced the victims’ families who were gathered in court Thursday.
Espinal-Quiroz, who lived in a Mennonite colony with his wife in Leesburg was driving a semitrailer the afternoon of July 21, 2014, in the northbound lanes of Interstate 55 near Channahon when he entered a construction zone with his cruise control set at 65 mph while cars were traveling less than 5 mph, authorities said.
His truck struck three vehicles, including a 2012 Kia Soul occupied by Kimberly Britton, 43, and Piper Britton, 11, both of Urbana, Ill., and Timothy Osburn, 64, of Channahon. The family was traveling to visit relatives in New Hampshire. Kimberly and Piper Britton were killed immediately, and Osburn died 16 days later in a Chicago hospital.
Two other women, Ulrike Blopleh, 48, of Channahon, and Vicky Palacios, 54, of Coal City, Ill., also were killed when their vehicles were struck by Espinal-Quiroz’s truck. Blopleh was traveling with three of her children, who also were injured in the crash, to go blueberry picking, her husband testified Wednesday during Espinal-Quiroz’s sentencing hearing.
Relatives of the victims told the judge how they had suffered after losing their loved ones. Some called for stricter laws regulating the trucking industry.
Espinal-Quiroz admitted to falsifying his driving logs, showing he started driving at 5:15 a.m. instead of 1:15 a.m., his attorneys said. They noted, however, his actual time on the road was just over seven hours and that he was on duty for 13 hours when he crashed — one hour less than the maximum 14 hours allowed by trucking regulations.
In giving his ruling, Carlson noted Espinal-Quiroz did not wake up the morning of July 21 intending to kill people. He also noted Espinal-Quiroz has been active in the county jail teaching Bible studies and reaching out to other prisoners and that the trucker has expressed an interest in promoting an awareness about trucker safety.
Carlson said he wanted to provide a sentence that gave some “closure” to all involved, recognized the loss of life and sent a message to other truck drivers to follow safety regulations.
Palacios’ son, Joshua Johnke, said he supported Carlson’s decision. When he testified Wednesday, Johnke told Espinal-Quiroz he forgave him.
“He didn’t wake up wanting to kill five people,” Johnke said. “We understand that now and no matter what the judge would impose, our mothers, daughters, sisters and father are still gone.”
Source: Chicago Tribune