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  Last year more people used the County's forest preserves than visited Yellowstone National Park.

Schneider wants hearing over fatal crash blamed on Cook forest preserve driver

Thursday, July 12, 2018
Daily Herald
by Chacour Koop

Schneider wants hearing over fatal crash blamed on Cook forest preserve driver

  • Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider

    Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider

A suburban Cook County commissioner is calling for a hearing to investigate the circumstances that allowed a 20-year-old seasonal employee of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to be driving a truck blamed for a six-vehicle pileup that killed a Bloomingdale man.

Hillside resident Caleb Rallings, 20, is accused of plowing the Ford F350 forest preserve dump truck into five vehicles June 30 while speeding north on Arlington Heights Road near Busse Woods, police say. Rallings was jailed Tuesday on charges of reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence of drugs involving a death.

Giuseppe Gazzano, 44, of Bloomingdale, died in the crash.

Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, whose district includes the scene of the crash, called Thursday for a hearing to investigate any necessary changes to employee policies.

"The board needs to revisit the Forest Preserves Alcohol and Controlled Substance Use Policy for employees, as well as its Vehicle Policy to determine what can be done to safeguard against any tragedies in the future," Schneider said in an email.

A spokeswoman for the forest preserve district did not respond to emails Thursday.

But forest preserve district officials sent county commissioners a letter about the crash.

"The Forest Preserves of Cook County is deeply saddened by the tragic incident, and offers its condolences and sympathy to everyone impacted," it reads. "The Forest Preserves has strict policies regarding safe driving, and we follow strict training procedures to onboard new and returning employees."

Rallings, a second-year seasonal maintenance employee, was fired Thursday, July 5, according to the letter. The letter states he had no previous behavioral or performance issues documented during his employment.

Rallings was driving four passengers who were completing community service requirements through the Cook County court system, according to the letter.

Gazzano died after the truck hit his 2013 Chevrolet Equinox about 10:45 a.m. June 30, authorities said. Twelve people, including all five occupants of the forest preserve truck, were taken to the hospital.

Elk Grove Village Deputy Chief Nick Olson declined to disclose Rallings' speed before the collision but said the truck was traveling "fast." Olson said Rallings is suspected of being under the influence of drugs during the collision but did not specify which substance.

The letter did not specify whether Rallings had been screened for alcohol or controlled substance abuse.

Under forest preserve policy, employees may be screened for drugs and alcohol if they are new applicants or current employees being selected for a new position, if there is reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, after an accident with a vehicle or equipment, or after an any leave of absence 30 days or longer.

Employees with a commercial driver's license also must submit to random alcohol and drug testing.

The vehicle Rallings was driving does not require special licensing, but operators must undergo training as part of orientation, forest preserve district officials said in the letter. Rallings completed that training on June 13, according to the letter.

Rallings is scheduled to appear in court Monday.

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