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Key Hearing Next Wednesday in the Hector Avalos Case

Hector Avalos. Photo via Facebook

Next Wednesday will be a turning point in the criminal case against Robert Vais, the motorist charged with fatally striking cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk.

That day, there will be a hearing on a Motion to Quash Arrest filed by lawyers for Vais. They will argue that the police officers who responded to the crash did not have probable cause to arrest the defendant, according to Avalos family attorney Michael Keating (a Streetsblog sponsor). If Judge Nicholas Ford denies the motion, the case continues towards a trial. However, if Judge Ford grants the motion, the case will be thrown out of court.

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, 54, allegedly struck him from behind.

Vais stayed at the scene, and police said he smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot. “I was the driver of that van over there,” he told the police, according to court records. “I hit him. Is he OK?” 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.

To a casual observer, it may seem hard to believe that the defense would argue the police didn’t have good reason to arrest Vais. After all, the officers said he looked and smelled like he was drinking, and the BAC test results indicate that he was intoxicated.

However, this is actually a common defense practice, according to Margaret Skrzypkowski, a victim advocate with the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists. Since Vais is facing jail time, it makes sense that his lawyers are using every possible strategy, even those unlikely to succeed. “If defense attorneys think there’s a chance something might work, they’ll try it,” she said.

During the hearing, the arresting officers will be called to testify on their basis for probable cause. Skrzypkowski, who lost a daughter to a drunk driver, said a strong turnout from Avalos supporters could be helpful to his family during this difficult time. “As a victim myself, I know that it’s important for the family to see that support,” she said. The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. in room 702 of the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California.

The Avalos family had previously filed a civil suit against Vais, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, as well as Francesca’s on Taylor, the restaurant in Little Italy where he reportedly drank before the crash. Cook County, which owns the hospital, was recently added as a defendant in the lawsuit, Keating said. “Evidence thus far has shown that Vais was leaving a holiday party for Stroger [Hospital] immediately prior to the collision, and therefore we allege that Cook County is responsible for the actions of its employee.”

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