Joliet woman accused of driving 111 mph while on drugs in fatal crash

Maria Aiello

A former investigator for the Will County Public Defender’s Office allegedly drove at 111 mph while under the influence of PCP and other drugs in a fiery crash in 2022 that killed a doctor in Joliet, court records show.

New details about the case against Maria Aiello, 47, of Joliet, were revealed by prosecutors in their petition to keep her in jail on charges of reckless homicide, aggravated driving under the influence and unlawful possession of hydrocodone, which is an opioid drug that relieves pain.

A judge may decide Oct. 10. whether Aiello should remain in jail.

Aiello is charged with causing the March 15, 2022, crash at the intersection of Glenwood and Springfield avenues that killed Dr. Ednalice Pagan-Romney, 50, of Aurora. She died inside of a vehicle that was fully engulfed in fire.

Pagan-Romney was the CEO of Inspire Therapeutic Services, which had a location in Joliet. The company said in a Facebook post that she was the “pillar of the psychological community, and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”

Prosecutors alleged in a Sept. 18 petition that medical records show Aiello had PCP, THC, cocaine and opiates in her urine after the deadly crash. PCP, or phencyclidine, is a hallucinogenic drug. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.

Aiello was hired as an investigator with the public defender’s office, according to a 2017 news release from the office. Before then, she was employed by the Will County Chief Judge’s Office as a court interpreter.

Aiello stayed employed by the public defender’s office after her arrest last year. Will County Public Defender Michael Renzi said Thursday that Aiello is no longer employed, and she submitted her resignation “quite some time ago.”

Because of Aiello’s professional ties to Will County, her case has been handed to Kankakee County Judge William Dickenson. Aiello’s court hearings still are held at the Will County Courthouse.

Before Sept. 18, Aiello would’ve needed to post 10% of her $500,000 bond to win her freedom from jail. Now her attorney, Daniel Walsh, is requesting her release with the statewide elimination of cashless bail.

Prosecutors are opposing Aiello’s release. They argue in a petition that Aiello is a “real and present threat to the physical safety of any person or the community” because she is charged with reckless homicide and an aggravated DUI offense that led to a death.

About 8:15 p.m. March 15, 2022, Pagan-Romney was in a white 2020 Acura TLX that was stopped at a red light in the westbound lanes of Glenwood Avenue at Springfield Avenue, according to prosecutors’ petition to deny Aiello’s release from jail. The location is close to Ascension Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet.

Aiello was driving a 2015 Chevrolet Trax that witnesses estimated was traveling between 80 and 100 mph, prosecutors said. Aiello’s vehicle struck the rear of Pagan-Romney’s vehicle, causing it to strike a tree on the north side of Glenwood Avenue just west of Springfield Avenue, prosecutors said.

After Pagan-Romney’s vehicle caught fire, Joliet firefighters responded to the scene.

“The victim was unable to escape due to the fire and was pronounced deceased at the scene,” prosecutors said.

Aiello was hospitalized with multiple injuries. A preliminary screening of her blood and urine showed Aiello had PCP, cocaine, opioids and marijuana in her system, prosecutors said.

A search warrant for Aiello’s airbag control module in her Chevrolet Trax showed she was traveling 111 mph about five seconds before the crash and not applying pressure to the brakes, prosecutors said. Data from the vehicle showed Aiello was traveling 110 mph or higher the entire time, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors alleged that Aiello’s medical records showed she had PCP, THC, cocaine and opiates in her urine, but they also noted that emergency medical personnel had administered Aiello opiates during her trip to the hospital.

On March 29, 2022, officers searched Aiello’s vehicle and found three pills in her wallet that they determined were acetaminophen and hydrocodone bitartrate, prosecutors said. Acetaminophen is a nonopioid painkiller sold under the brand name Tylenol, while hydrocodone bitartrate is an opioid drug that relieves pain.