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Report: Police crash that killed pedestrian ‘unavoidable’

The Lake County Major Crash Assistance Team has released the details of a report on a fatal crash involving a police vehicle in northwest suburban Wheeling last year, calling the accident “unavoidable.”

Wheeling Police Officer Preston Robertson was following a speeding motorist about 5:45 a.m. on Sept. 14 when he fatally struck a pedestrian, 20-year-old Fredi Morales, on McHenry Road near Cedar Run Driver, authorities said at the time.

Morales, of the 9400 block of North Terrace Place in Des Plaines, was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:26 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The MCAT, an independent cooperative of police departments that provides accident reconstruction services at the request of local jurisdictions, found that the motorist the officer was following was clocked at 58 mph in a 35 mph zone, and the officer was going between 87 and 109 mph for a “short distance” before the crash, according to a statement from the Village of Wheeling.

Morales was running to cross the street and wearing dark clothing when he was struck by the police SUV, according to the report. He had a blood-alcohol level ranging between .158 and .228.

The 41-page report concludes that Officer Robertson had no time to avoid the accident.

“Given the conditions of this incident, the accident was unavoidable by the officer as he did not have enough time or distance to react to the pedestrian as he ran across the squad’s path of travel,” the report said.
Toxicology reports show the officer had no alcohol or drugs in his system, according to the report. According to Wheeling police, Robertson has an “exemplary record” in his 23 years as a police officer.

“He is considered one of the most respected and conscientious officers on the force, receiving seven letters of commendation, four department recommendations, and nine letters of appreciation,” according to a statement from the police department.

Robertson had been assigned to non-patrol light duty until the investigation was completed.

“The Village remains sympathetic to the Morales family for this tragic accident that took place within the context of valid and important police work,” according to the statement.

However, a lawsuit filed by Morales’ family accuses the village of wrongful death, claiming the police SUV was traveling at “an unreasonably high rate of speed.”

According to the suit and police, the officer had not activated the SUV’s flashers or sirens at the time of the crash.

The family’s $100,000 lawsuit also claims emotional distress, saying Morales’ brother went to the site of the crash the next day to mourn and saw “various pieces of his brother’s body that were left to decompose on the roadway and parkway.”

The suit, filed Sept. 16, is pending in Cook County Circuit Court.