Judge Blocks Motion to Quash Arrest in Case Against Robert Vais

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Robert Vais.

At a hearing last Wednesday, Judge Nicholas Ford denied a Motion to Quash Arrest filed by lawyers for Robert Vais, the driver accused of fatally striking cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk.

Avalos, a 28-year-old former Marine and aspiring chef, was biking on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park on the night of December 6, 2013. Vais, a 54-year-old administrator at Stroger Hospital, allegedly struck him from behind. Tests found Vais had a blood alcohol content of .118, well above the legal limit of .08. He is charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the defense argued that the police officers who responded to the crash did not have probable cause to arrest Vais, according to Active Transportation staffer Jason Jenkins, who has been attending the hearings. If Ford had granted the motion, the case against Vais would have been thrown out.

At the hearing, a police officer gave testimony on why he decided to arrest Vais. When the officer arrived at the crash site, Vais stepped forward from the crowd of onlookers and said he was the driver, the officer testified. He stated that Vais smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes.

According to the officer, Vais also kept repeating himself, asking several times about Avalos’ condition, and claiming that he didn’t see the cyclist, who appeared out of nowhere. The officer said he suspected alcohol was a factor in the crash, so he arrested Vais and took him to a hospital for a blood draw.

“The judge handily decided there was probable cause to arrest,” Jenkins said. There is some legal precedent for the odor of alcohol alone being insufficient cause for arrest, he said. However, the fact that the case involves a deadly crash, along with the officer’s testimony about Vais’ bloodshot eyes and repeated statements, likely tipped the scales.

Roughly 15 people were present at the hearing in support of Avalos, including his parents, Jenkins said. About five people were there to support Vais. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday, November 3, at 10:00 a.m. in room 702 of the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California.

The Avalos family has also filed a civil suit against Vais, as well as Francesca’s on Taylor, the restaurant in Little Italy where he reportedly drank before the crash, and Cook County, which owns Stroger Hospital. Vais was said to have been attending a Christmas party for the hospital at the restaurant.

  • Right now Active Transportation Alliance’s presence at these hearings (and the ones for Bobby Cann’s death), and their organizing to get people trained as court advocates, is the best work they’re currently doing for Chicagoans who ride bikes. I’m glad that Jason is a tireless advocate in this arena; it appears that bicycling is getting the justice that had so long ignored it.

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