Robert Vais, the driver who struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos, pleaded guilty yesterday to aggravated DUI resulting in a death. According to Illinois law, the charge carries a jail sentence of three-to-fourteen years, at least 85 percent of which must be served in prison, plus fines of up to $25,000. Probation is generally not an option, except in extraordinary circumstances.
On December 6, 2013, Avalos was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.
At a court hearing last month, there was a “402 conference,” a private meeting between Vais’ defense team, the prosecutor from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, and Judge Nicholas Ford. During the conference the judge let the two sides know what his recommended sentence would be if the driver pleaded guilty.
Afterwards, the defense let the courtroom know that, given the results of the meeting, Vais intended to change his plea to guilty at the next hearing. This suggests that Ford did not indicate that he would give the defendant the maximum sentence of 14 years.
Yesterday’s court hearing was packed with supporters of the cyclist and the driver, according to Avalos family attorney Michael Keating of Keating Law Offices (a Streetsblog sponsor). At the hearing, assistant state’s attorney Shawn Concannon noted that blood drawn from Vais soon after the crash showed his blood alcohol level was 0.152 percent, nearly twice the legal level of 0.08, Keating said.