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Stroger Exec Will Serve 100 Days For Killing Cyclist While Driving Drunk

By Emma G. Gallegos in News on Nov 18, 2015 5:05PM

Robert Vais (Chicago Police Department)
A Stroger Hospital executive will serve a relatively light sentence for killing a cyclist after driving home drunk from a holiday party in December 2013.

Robert Vais, 56, was sentenced Tuesday to 100 days in jail plus two years of probation for his role in the death of Hector Avalos, a 28-year-old chef who had served in the Marines, according to a spokesman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

Vais struck Avalos, who was biking from River North to his home on the South Side, near the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park. After the crash, he stayed at the scene and his BAC registered 0.118—well over the legal limit of .08—on a Breathalyzer test, according to the Chicago Tribune. Visibility was poor that night, and Avalos was wearing dark clothing, according to testimony. An officer at the scene described Vais as distraught, and said he kept asking about Avalos' condition. He kept saying, "He just came out of nowhere and hit my van."

At Tuesday's emotional sentencing hearing, his mother Ingrid Cossio offered up a statement while sobbing: "I miss him so much. He was and always will be my baby. (Vais) needs to face the consequences. He didn't just kill my son. He killed me too."

Vais offered up his apologies and said, "I pray every day for Hector. I don't even know what I can say."

Streetsblog Chicago describes why this sentence from Judge Nicholas Ford is unusual:

According to Illinois law, aggravated DUI 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. Therefore, it's noteworthy that Judge Ford gave Vais a sentence of only 100 days, plus two years probation, with no fine.

Ford said he took into account that Vais had no criminal background and a clean driving record, he didn't flee from the scene, was contrite and could become a productive member of society. Several people vouched for his character. According to the Tribune, he said, "If I sentence him to 14 years in prison, would that be any worse than … every night when he closes his eyes, his last thought is that of causing the death of a Marine?"

He added, "What Hector's family has gone through is a thousand times worse that what (Vais) has gone through. To the mother whose life has been affected forever, you have my heartfelt sorrow for what you've gone through."

Active Transportation Alliance staff member Jason Jenkins attended the hearing, along with Avalos' friends and members of the bike community. He told Streetsblog, "We weren’t hoping for an outcome of another person’s life being destroyed. The fact that there is jail time is somewhat reassuring." He did add that he was disturbed that Avalos' dark clothing was described as a mitigating factor and that the crash was repeatedly referred to as an "accident."

"[Vais] has to face the fact that what he did was wrong," Avalos mother Cossio told Streetsblog after the sentencing hearing. "He gets a new beginning, a new life, and a new chance to be with his family, so I hope he takes advantage of that opportunity. I don’t get that with my son."

Hector Avalos (Handout photo)