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$750,000 bond for driver in fatal ‘road rage’ crash

A memorial is set up Thursday June 14 2012 Ogden River road Naperville after crash there Wednesday left Gerald W.

A memorial is set up on Thursday, June 14, 2012 at Ogden and River road in Naperville after a crash there on Wednesday left Gerald W. Puglise, 63, of Lombard dead. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 16, 2012 6:22AM

Retired electrician Gerry Puglise finished a long, late lunch at an Aurora restaurant with an old friend, then hopped on his prized Triumph Rocket III motorcycle to ride home to his wife in Lombard.

“I told him I loved him, like I always do. Then he went east and I went west,” his friend, Paul Diebold, recalled Thursday,

The trip home Wednesday afternoon unwittingly took the 63-year-old Puglise into the path of a drugged driver who was chasing another motorist in Naperville after a road rage dispute, police said.

Puglise, a Vietnam veteran and cancer survivor, died instantly after being hit by an Infiniti M45 sedan as it turned left through oncoming traffic at Ogden Avenue and River Road in Naperville, authorities said.

The driver, 31-year-old Michael J. Moreno of Plainfield, kept going after the 5 p.m. crash, but was arrested a short distance away, authorities said. After hospital tests indicated he had used marijuana, he was charged with felony DUI, reckless driving and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, DuPage County authorities said.

But Moreno’s arrest brought little comfort to grieving friends and family members who gathered at Puglise’s Lombard home.

“He beat cancer. He beat ‘Nam,” Diebold said, struggling to hold back tears. “This isn’t right.”

Puglise was devoted to his wife, Peggy Jo Datoli, his two sons and four stepsons, and his large extended family, which included more than a dozen grandchildren, relatives said.

“This was a man who was truly, truly loved by a lot of people,” said stepson Aldo Datoli, adding relatives are upset Puglise died simply because he was caught in the middle of a dispute in which he had no involvement.

“Gerry was only traveling back home, that’s all he was doing,” Datoli said.

Moreno was following a 16-year-old girl with whom he earlier had clashed during a road rage incident, though police didn’t release details of that conflict. She already had turned left onto River Road when Moreno followed her through the intersection, running down Puglise as he rode east on Ogden Avenue, police said. Puglise was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.

Moreno, who police said sustained minor injuries in the crash, has a history of traffic offenses that include driving on revoked and suspended driver’s licenses, driving without insurance and at least five speeding tickets.

Puglise grew up in suburban Berkeley, attended St. Joseph High School in Westchester, then later served three years in the Army, family members said.

He served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, then worked for years as an electrician, relatives said.

In the last decade, Puglise battled bladder and kidney cancer, but was doing well, family members said.

Puglise had a “passion” for motorcycles and had been riding for more than 40 years, Datoli said, adding his stepfather loved the “state-of-the-art” Triumph Rocket he was riding when he was killed.

Puglise and Diebold frequently rode together in a club with other motorcycle enthusiasts.

“We don’t cause any trouble, we just love to ride,” said Diebold, a retired firefighter and fellow Vietnam veteran.

The two friends — who had known each other for more than 40 years — met almost weekly for lunch to talk about their families, sports and reminisce about the old days.

“We always meet for lunch, that’s what we do,” Diebold said.

Though authorities contend Moreno was drugged when he caused the crash that killed Puglise, Diebold decried some motorists who seem to ignore motorcyclists, putting them at risk simply for being on the road.

“They want to get somewhere at a certain time, and Lord help the person who was in front of them,” Diebold said.

Moreno remained jailed on $750,000 bail. If convicted, he faces up to 14 years in prison.

Contributing: Jon Seidel, Bill Bird, Susan Frick Carlman

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