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$3.85 million granted in lawsuit against ex-Cook County forest preserve worker charged in fatal on-the-job crash

Thursday, April 11, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by George Houde

$3.85 million granted in lawsuit against ex-Cook County forest preserve worker charged in fatal on-the-job crash

Chicago Tribune
$3.85 million default judgment has been issued against a former Cook County Forest Preserve worker who authorities say was intoxicated while on the job when he drove a forest preserve truck at a high speed into a line of stopped vehicles last year, killing a Bloomingdale man.

The judgment was entered Monday in Cook County Circuit Court’s civil division in a wrongful death lawsuit against Caleb Rallings, a Hillside resident who was the alleged driver of the dump truck that killed 44-year-old Giuseppe Gazzano in a June 30 crash.

Alan Barinholtz, attorney for Gazzano’s estate, said he filed the motion for the default judgment after Rallings failed to respond to summons in the case either by himself or through an attorney. Judge Israel Desierto granted the motion, allowing Rallings 30 days to file a motion to vacate the judgment.

The lawsuit alleges that negligence on the part of Rallings led to Gazzano’s death.

A similar lawsuit is pending against the Forest Preserve District.

Rallings is not being represented by Forest Preserve District attorneys in the case, said district spokeswoman Stacina Stagner. The district has taken legal action of its own against Rallings.

“The district filed a lawsuit earlier this year for a declaratory judgment stating that Rallings was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident,” Stagner said in a written response to questions.

She declined further comment, citing pending litigation.

Rallings was 20 and a seasonal worker for the district when he drove the truck 76 mph into a line of vehicles stopped for a light at Arlington Heights and Cosman roads in Elk Grove Village, authorities said. The speed limit was 30 mph.

Four community service workers in the truck were hurt along with eight other individuals, authorities said. A bachelor who took care of his aging mother, Gazzano was driving home from work when he was killed, Barinholtz said.

Rallings was arrested at the scene and indicted on charges of aggravated driving under the influence and reckless homicide. Prosecutors said Rallings had THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his bloodstream at the time of the crash.

Rallings was fired from the forest preserve job after the crash and is currently out on bail awaiting trial in the criminal case. He also was injured and was hospitalized following the crash, authorities said.

The injured have filed civil lawsuits against the Forest Preserve District, Rallings and a forest preserve supervisor who should have known Rallings was impaired, Barinholtz said. Those lawsuits are pending.

He said it is unusual that the district is not representing Rallings in the lawsuit.

“I’ve never seen a municipality or a business take a position where someone who was operating a company vehicle with the knowledge and permission of the entity decline coverage,” Barinholtz said. “It would be one thing if he did not have permission. That’s not what we have here.”

The Forest Preserve District is a self-insured government agency.

George Houde is a freelance reporter.



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