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County Health Executive Charged with DUI in Cyclist's Death

By  Erica Demarest and Emily Morris | December 8, 2013 9:10am | Updated on December 8, 2013 3:06pm

 Robert Vais, 54, of Riverside, was charged with aggravated DUI and cited for speeding.
Suburban Man Charged with Drunken Driving in Crash that Killed Cyclist
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COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — An executive of the county's health system was charged with drunken driving in the crash that killed a cyclist in North Lawndale Friday night.

Robert Vais, 54, was ordered held on $400,000 bail Sunday.

Vais was charged in the death of Hector Avalos, a 28-year-old former Marine, who was riding his bike in the 2500 block of West Ogden Avenue on the way home from work when he was hit by a van about 11:50 p.m., authorities and family said.

According to a police report, as Avalos lay in the street, Vais walked up to officers and said, "I was the driver of that van over there. I hit him. Is he OK?"

Avalos was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m. Saturday.

Prosecutors said Vais had a blood alcohol content of .118, above the legal limit of .08.

According to Assistant State's Attorney Ron Park, Vais' background includes a 1980s conviction of misdemeanor assault, which took place in St. Louis.

Vais was charged with one count of felony aggravated DUI causing accidental death, one count of misdemeanor DUI and one count of misdemeanor DUI with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.08.

He was also cited for failing to reduce his speed.

On Sunday, Judge James Brown ordered Vais held on $400,000 bail, calling the incident a "tragedy of epic proportions."

The victim's mother, Ingrid Cossio, said her son was riding home from work when he was struck. She said he rode his bike everywhere.

Since May, Hector Avalos had worked as a cook in the River North restaurant El Hefe. He was studying to become a chef, relatives and co-workers said. He also served in the Marine Corps for five years, Cossio said.

"I thought there was going to be no bond," said Cossio, who added that she was "shocked" by the judge's decision.

"He's a person who killed someone else," Cossio said. "Why would you let him out?" 

Avalos' girlfriend of three years, Cristina Valencia, 27, said her boyfriend was "funny, energetic."

"He loved to dance and have a good time," she said.

His death "was very reckless, there's nothing we can change about that," she said.

Vais' attorney, Rick Beuke, said Vais works for Stroger Hospital. Records show Vais is director of reimbursement for the hospital, earning $138,300. He began working with the health system in 1982, according to the county's data portal.

Attempts to reach a hospital spokesperson to confirm his employment were unsuccessful.

"It was a tragic accident," Beuke said of what happened. 

"Their condolences go out to the family (of Avalos)," Beuke said on behalf of Vais and his family.