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Driver in Chinatown crash reportedly near death

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What happened behind the wheel when a big rig crashed into the CTA's Chinatown El station last month, killing two people and injuring 21?

Truck driver Donald Wells was seen in public only once after the deadly accident, walking with Chicago police and apparently healthy.

Since then, Mr. Wells has not been seen or heard from. The I-Team has found out why.

Sixty-four-year Wells is near death, according to friends and relatives, at a south suburban hospital.

The only time we've seen the truck driver from Michigan, he appeared disheveled but suffering no outward injuries after the accident.

Authorities have said Mr. Wells was not drunk or on drugs when he smashed into this CTA rapid transit entrance just off the Dan Ryan Expressway, late on the afternoon of Friday, April 25.

After Wells was cited for negligent driving and released with no criminal charges, the belief was that he came to the Michigan home he shares with his wife. But the I-Team has learned that Wells never returned home to picturesque Metamora, north of Detroit. After leaving St. Anthony's Hospital, he was checked in to Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn.

"They're doin' the best they can to just keep him alive. He's really sick," said friend Rick Fusero.

Wells' friends of 30 years, Rick and Debbie Fusero, were at his hospital bedside the past few weeks. They drove Wells' wife back from Chicago Tuesday night and the I-Team met them as they arrived home. They say the trucker survived surgery to control internal bleeding but continues to deteriorate.

"They're just trying to stabilize him and they can't even transport him back here so the family can be around. But his system just keeps shutting down and shutting down. They fix one thing and something else shuts down," said Rick Fusero.

Some witnesses to the crash told police that Wells was slumped over the steering wheel just before the rush hour accident. Those close to the driver say they've been told he went unconscious while on the Dan Ryan exit ramp.

"He can't recall anything. Something happened to him that caused him to pass out or something of that nature," said Fusero.

Fusero says authorities have pressed him and relatives about whether Wells had a drinking history.

"Thirty years, I've never seen - even at his daughter's wedding -I've never seen him take a drink. He just doesn't have a need for those kinds of things," said Fusero.

Wells' personal driving record was clean. In 2006, he had been a driver for a small, family-owned company near Port Huron, Michigan. In 20007, he joined Whiteline Express in suburban Detroit.

Federal records show that Whiteline trucks had been involved in 34 accidents the past two years and that following inspections, 43 trucks had to be taken out of service for repairs. Nevertheless Whiteline received the highest possible federal safety rating in its most recent motor carrier evaluation.

"Accidents happen, but Don Wells is a good, good man," said Fusero.

Wells and his wife are devoted members of a church. Some members of the congregation have driven to Chicago to support the family. And as the truck driver fights for his life, his pastor updates congregates during Sunday services.

Wells' wife, Darlene, declined to appear on camera and is recovering herself from a recent hip replacement. She called her husband a caring, sensitive person who hates to see people suffer. Now she fears, her husband may end up the third fatality from this terrible accident.

"I was here Tuesday before he left. It was just good ol' Don - chit-chattin' about work, projects he wanted to do around the house - just good ol' Don," said Fusero.

Christ Hospital would not discuss Wells' treatment. The trucking company where Wells worked did not return our calls. Wells' lawyer, John Patton, declined to discuss the accident but did say, "there's another side to the story."

Surveillance cameras may have the accident on tape, but the city is refusing to turn over videos to lawyers representing the dead and injured.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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