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Driver Who Killed Cyclist Hector Avalos Will Plead Guilty at Next Hearing

Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

At a court hearing last Thursday in the case against Robert Vais, the motorist who struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while allegedly drunk, the defense team announced that Vais plans to plead guilty at the next hearing.

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.

Vais was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.118 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. He was charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. Vais recently asked Judge Nicholas Ford for a “402 conference,” a meeting between his defense team, the Cook County State’s Attorney, and the judge, which took place at Thursday’s hearing.

During the 402 conference, the parties met in the judge’s chambers and the prosecutor told Ford why the State’s Attorney’s office believes they would prevail if the case went to trial. The defense also stated their case to the judge. The judge then let the prosecution and defense know what his recommended sentence would be for Vais if he pleads guilty.

“We don’t know exactly what transpired in the 402 conference,” said Active Trans education specialist Jason Jenkins, who has been attending the hearings. “But afterwards the defense team let the court know that, given the results of the 402 conference, they intended to change their plea from not guilty to guilty for the charge of aggravated DUI.”

The defense team will enter the guilty plea at the next hearing, which will be held on Wednesday, September 16, at 9:30 a.m. at the Cook County Courthouse, 26th and California, room 702, Jenkins said. The hearing after that should be the sentencing hearing.

“We don’t have any solid indication of what the sentence will be,” Jenkis said. He noted that there are state sentencing guidelines for aggravated DUI resulting in a death. The charge carries a sentence of three-to-fourteen years. The defendant must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence in prison. Probation is usually is not an option, except in extraordinary circumstances.

According to a source, the 402 Conference did not result in an agreed-to resolution to the criminal charges. One possibility is that Ford offered Vais a relatively lenient sentence, which the defense accepted, but the prosecution rejected.

“Logic would dictate that the judge didn’t offer Vais the stiffest possible sentence, or else he wouldn’t have chosen to plead guilty,” Jenkins said. “We just hope that he gets a fair and reasonable sentence, and not just a slap on the wrist.

33 people attended Thursday’s hearing in support of the Avalos family, Jenkins said. The police officer who responded to the crash and members of the family will likely testify at the sentencing hearing. It will be important for supporters of the family to attend that hearing in order to send Ford a message that Vais must not be given an unjustly light sentence.

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