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Amid video fallout, Cook County Forest Preserve District reveals fatal crash involving worker and governmental truck

Friday, July 13, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Gregory Pratt

Amid video fallout, Cook County Forest Preserve District reveals fatal crash involving worker and government truck

Gregory PrattChicago Tribune

A seasonal Forest Preserve District of Cook County worker allegedly drove a government vehicle while under the influence of drugs and killed a man, an internal memo says.

The incident happened in Elk Grove Village on Arlington Heights Road on June 30, according to a letter sent to Cook County commissioners Tuesday evening.

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The crash comes to light amid continuing fallout from a viral video showing a man berating a woman for wearing a Puerto Rico shirt last month — and a nearby forest preserve officer seemingly ignoring her calls for help.

The worker involved in the crash, 20-year old Caleb Rallings, was in a Ford F350 Crew dump truck driving four individuals carrying out community service work through the Cook County court system, the letter sent to county commissioners said. The vehicle Rallings was driving crashed into five vehicles traveling in the opposite direction, the letter said.

Giuseppe Gazzano, 44, of Bloomingdale, was killed in the crash, the letter said. Rallings “was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence of drug involving a death,” it said.

Rallings was a seasonal employee in his second year, officials said. He was terminated from the Forest Preserve District on July 5, the letter said. All five people in the county truck were sent to local hospitals, the letter said.

The Forest Preserve District hasn’t had previous issues with Rallings, according to the letter to commissioners.

“The Forest Preserves has strict policies regarding safe driving, and we follow strict training procedures to onboard new and returning employees,” a Forest Preserve District statement said. “We took swift action to terminate the employee, and continue to grieve for the family’s loss.”

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin said Wednesday he should have been notified sooner.

“It troubles me that somebody could be high and driving a county vehicle,” Boykin said. “It troubles me that this happened June 30 and they should’ve let us know before now, I would think.”

A longtime friend of Gazzano, Paul Spaletto, said Gazzano worked in a grocery store and was on his way home from a shift when the crash occurred. Spaletto described his friend as good-natured yet diligent; when Gazzano’s father died a few years ago, Gazzano, who went by “Joe,” took the lead in caring for his mother and other family members.

“I view that as a real stand-up thing,” Spaletto said. “I don’t know how many people would have changed their whole lives and devoted so much time to taking care of family.”

Meanwhile, the officer in the viral video has been placed on desk duty as an internal investigation progresses, a local congressman called for a federal probe into the matter and the video prompted multiple calls for the police officer to resign or be fired. Even the governor of Puerto Rico tweeted about it as views of the video approached the 2 million mark.

The June 14 incident at Caldwell Woods on Chicago's Far Northwest Side came to light Monday and also prompted an apology from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who later said she expressed her regrets in a phone call to Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

In the video, a man — later identified in police reports as Timothy G. Trybus, 62 — demands to know why the woman was wearing a shirt displaying the Puerto Rican flag. He asks her whether she is an American citizen, even though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and its residents are U.S. citizens.

“You should not be wearing that in the United States of America,” Trybus tells her.

Forest Preserve District police Chief Kelvin Pope said the officer, whom he identified as Patrick Connor, “should've stepped in, and he should've done something. I think that's the reason we're here today, because he did not.”

Chicago Tribune’s John Keilman and freelance reporter George Houde contributed.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @royalpratt



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