June 17, 2021

Trucker sentenced to 10 years in prison for crash that killed 5

JOLIET – A truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel and killed five people in a 2014 crash on Interstate 55 was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison.

However, Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 53, will be eligible for parole after serving half of his sentence and has credit for two-and-a-half years spent in the Will County jail. Espinal-Quiroz pleaded guilty to five counts of reckless homicide and one count of falsifying his logbook.

At 2:15 p.m. July 21, 2014, Espinal-Quiroz was traveling 15 mph over the speed limit when his red Freightliner slammed into three vehicles backed up in the northbound lanes while traffic was stalled by construction work on the Des Plaines River bridge in Channahon Township. Espinal-Quiroz had the cruise control set at 65 mph, according to the Will County State's Attorney's Office.

The truck struck a 2012 Kia Soul that contained Timothy Osburn, 64, of Urbana; his wife, Kimberly K. Britton, 43; and their daughter, Piper Britton, 11. It also hit a 2008 Dodge Avenger occupied by Vicky L. Palacios, 54, of Coal City; and a 2000 Chevrolet Astrovan in which Ulrike Blopleh, 48, of Channahon, was riding with three of her children.

Espinal-Quiroz started work that day at 2:30 a.m. but wrote in his logbook he'd started at 6:15 a.m. Espinal-Quiroz has been blind in one eye since 1984 and driven trucks since 1991 with a vision waiver from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. His license was renewed the day before the crash.

Espinal-Quiroz is a Mennonite who has led Bible study groups while in jail, witnesses testified on his behalf Thursday. A native of Honduras, he became a naturalized citizen in 2008 and lived near an Amish community. He and his wife have been married 27 years, have two children and are expecting their first grandchild.

"I don't have one powerful word that can explain how I feel about it. All I can say is [I'm] so sorry," Espinal-Quiroz told the victims' families in the courtroom.

"The night before the accident, I sleep good ... I fell asleep in the parking lot [earlier], I thought everything was normal. I never thought about [being sleepy]. I thought, 'What's going to happen?'' he said. "When so many innocent people I hit with this truck. I don't want to hurt nobody in my life."

Prosecutors had asked Judge David Carlson to sentence Espinal-Quiroz to 15 years in prison, though he also was eligible for probation. Will County Assistant State's Attorney Derek Ewanic said a prison sentence was necessary to deter others.

"He chose to drive that semi when he knew he was tired," Ewanic said.

"In Will County we seem to have more truck traffic than other counties and I have to say that is a concern of this court," Carlson said. "Is this [sentence] sending a message? Perhaps, but I don't know if anyone's going to listen to it."