Urbana family among victims in fatal I-55 wreck
A vacation trip to visit relatives on the East Coast turned deadly for an Urbana family involved in a multicar pileup Monday on Interstate 55 south of Joliet.
Kimberly Britton, 43, assistant director of business information systems at the University of Illinois, and Piper Britton, 11, a fifth-grader at Yankee Ridge Elementary School, were among four people killed when a semi-truck hit three stopped vehicles in a construction zone on I-55 near Elwood, according to Illinois State Police.
Ms. Britton's husband was injured in the accident and airlifted to a Chicago hospital, where he was in critical condition Tuesday evening, friends said.
Ms. Britton's co-workers were devastated by the news when they arrived for work Tuesday morning. They recalled her as a supportive colleague and loving mom who delighted in her only child.
"Kim was one of those people who just lit up a room when she came into it. She was always enthusiastic and positive. She was a highly skilled colleague," said Gloria Keeley, UI assistant vice president for administrative services.
Keeley said the family had planned to visit Ms. Britton's parents on the East Coast this week.
Ms. Britton joined the UI Office of Business Services in 2002 and helped create its website, Keeley said. She then worked in business systems analysis and project management and was recently promoted to a management role supervising software development, with staff on both the Urbana and Chicago campuses, Keeley said.
When Keeley asked Ms. Britton's colleagues how they would describe her, words like "supportive" and "great mentor" came up. One co-worker told her that Ms. Britton was one of the few people "who felt I was funny, and that always made me feel good."
Her transition to supervisor went smoothly because her fellow employees "had the utmost respect for Kim, and she for them," Keeley said.
"She really is someone who deserved to be remembered," Keeley said. "She knew how to appreciate people."
The staff was close, pitching in to bring dinners to the house when Ms. Britton had a difficult pregnancy with her daughter.
"She was just delighted when she got pregnant and had Piper," her only child, Keeley said. "She was an absolutely devoted mother."
Ms. Britton loved baking elaborate cakes and sewing her own clothes. Keeley recalled a multitiered cake shaped like an Inca pyramid that she baked for Piper for school. She was also proud of a burgundy satin gown and shawl she sewed for a co-worker's recent wedding.
"She was very creative in addition to being very professionally technically skilled," Keeley said.
Ms. Britton had previously worked at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, where she was involved in theater, Keeley said.
Urbana Superintendent Don Owen said the school district is considering ways to provide support to both staff members and students at Yankee Ridge when the school year starts next month.
"Our thoughts go out to Piper's friends, family, fellow students and teachers," Owen said.
Meanwhile, the truck driver authorities say caused the crash — Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Ind. — was being held on $1 million bond Tuesday.
Investigators believe the red 2004 Freightliner truck he was driving was speeding when it struck three stopped vehicles in a construction zone, state police Cmdr. Randy Ness told reporters.
Espinal-Quiroz's charges included two Class 4 felonies — failure to reduce speed to prevent an accident and willfully making false entries in his logbook.
Prosecutors say Espinal-Quiroz falsified entries to make it appear that he started work later Monday than he actually did. Espinal-Quiroz stated his shift started at 6 a.m. when it actually began at 2:30 a.m., prosecutors said.
Federal regulators have tightened the rules on work hours for truck drivers to curtail the practice of logbook tampering and keep fatigued drivers off the road. Last summer, they passed a measure capping drivers' maximum average workweek at 70 hours, down from 82.
Prosecutors say Espinal-Quiroz had a history of traffic violations that dated back to 1991. At least three of those involved speeding, officials said Tuesday in court.
Also killed in Monday's crash were 54-year-old Vicky Palacios of Coal City and 48-year-old Urlike Blopleh of Channahon. Three people in the minivan that contained Blopleh were also taken to a hospital for treatment. Their conditions were not available as of Tuesday night.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.