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Two area mothers among those who died in I-55 crash

Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 9:10 p.m. CST
Caption
Ulrike P. Blopleh, 48, of Channahon
Caption
Vicky L. Palaciocs, 54, of Coal City

CHANNAHON TOWNSHIP – Two area mothers – one from Channahon, the other from Coal City – were among the five who died in a pair of fatal crashes Monday in construction zones on Interstate 55 in Channahon Township.

Vicky L. Palacios, 54, of Coal City, and Ulrike P. Blopleh, 48, of Channahon, were involved in the same crash that occurred at 2:17 p.m. on I-55 near Arsenal Road. Kimberly K. Britton, 43, and Piper Britton, 11, from Urbana, also died in the crash.

Family members are mourning their losses. Sara Hakey, fiancée to Palacios’ oldest son and spokeswoman for the family, said Palacios was the “life of every family get-together.”

A single mother, Palacios raised four children, became a stepmother to three more children later in life and spoiled her many grandchildren. Palacios valued her family above all and tried to spend as much time with them as possible. Her children and loved ones looked to her for advice and support, Hakey said.

“She was so fun. You couldn’t be in a bad mood around her,” Hakey said. “She was just a big ball of sunshine.”

Steve Flynn, a family spokesman, said Blopleh’s family is struggling but has been surrounded by support of members of their church, Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The semitrailer driver charged with starting the first chain-reaction crash that resulted in the deaths of four was closing in on a 12-hour workday when the collision occurred, according to the Will County State’s Attorney’s office.

Blopleh was in the front passenger seat of her family van when the accident occurred. Blopleh’s oldest daughter was driving while her two sons were sitting in the back passenger seats. One of the sons was injured and treated at Loyola Medical Center, but he is in stable condition.

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 Will County Coroner’s Office, from medical problems.

$1 million bond set

for semitrailer driver

Monday’s collisions were in the construction zone over the Des Plaines River bridge. The same construction zone was the site of 12 crashes with injuries and two fatalities in 2013. It has reduced traffic down to one lane each way for the past two summer construction seasons.

In court Tuesday, the semitrailer driver, Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Indiana, was ordered held in lieu of a $1 million bond. He was charged with two class 4 felonies that included falsifying a log book and failing to maintain a log book.

Assistant Will County State’s Attorney Jim Long said other charges, including reckless homicide, are a possibility as state police continue to investigate the crash. Police also cited Espinal-Quiroz for failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident.

“I have to stress … we are very early on in a fluid investigation,” Will County State’s Attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie said. “Other charges are possible.”

Espinal-Quiroz allegedly falsified entries in his logbook to make it appear he was behind the wheel for a shorter period of time than allowed by federal law. He told officers at the scene he started work at 2:30 a.m. Monday, instead of 6:30 a.m., as falsely indicated in his logbook.

The crash happened just before 2:30 p.m. – about 12 hours after the start of his shift – but federal law limits truck drivers to a maximum 11-hour continuous workday. Authorities say Espinal-Quiroz was driving 15 mph over the speed limit posted at the I-55 construction site when he slammed into the vehicles.

As a condition of his bond, Espinal-Quiroz, a U.S. citizen who is a native of Honduras, is required to surrender his passport. Nicole Sartori, with the public defender’s office, was denied her request to grant Espinal-Quiroz a lesser bond of $100,000. Sartori declined to comment after the hearing.

When setting the $1 million bond, Judge Carmen Goodman considered Espinal-Quiroz’s history of traffic violations that dates back to 1991. Of the 12 traffic violations, three included speeding and five included commercial vehicle violations.

• Shaw Media reporters Jessica Bourque and Vikaas Shanker contributed to this report.

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