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Driver Who Killed Avalos Pleaded Guilty, Will Be Sentenced in November

Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the Avalos family.

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.

During the hearing, Vais stated on the record that he was pleading guilty of his own free will and understood that it was a "blind plea," according to Keating. This means there is no guarantee as to what his sentence would be.

Judge Ford will sentence Vais on Tuesday, November 17, at 11:00 a.m. at the Cook County courthouse, 26th and California, in room 702. It’s crucial that supporters of the Avalos family, including members of the bike community, attend the hearing to let Ford know that justice must be served, and the driver must not be let off with a slap on the wrist.

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