Trooper left ‘a legacy of courage, honor and duty’
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO, RICK KAMBIC and CASEY TONER Staff Reporters March 29, 2013 4:06AM
Updated: May 1, 2013 3:16PM
Illinois State Trooper James Sauter had such a knack for dealing with the public, that the people he arrested would often thank him after their ride to the station.
Sauter, 28, was killed Thursday night in a fiery crash when a semitrailer truck struck his police cruiser on the Tri-State Tollway in Northbrook.
Police believe that Sauter was parked on the left shoulder in the southbound lanes of I-294 near Willow Road when the truck slammed into his cruiser and both vehicles burst into flames.
Sauter — who had been a trooper since 2008 and received a lifesaving medal when he was still a cadet — died from his injuries at the scene shortly after the 11 p.m. crash, authorities said.
Police have not yet determined why Sauter was on the shoulder. The truck driver, who suffered minor burns, was being questioned by police but no charges had been filed. Police, however, confirmed that Illinois law requires semi trucks to be in the two right lanes and that the truck in question was driving in the far left lane. Investigators are still talking to witnesses and reviewing wreckage to recreate the accident.
“Trooper Sauter left a legacy of courage, honor and duty,” ISP Director Hiram Grau said in a statement. “Our hearts are heavy with grief, but they are also strengthened by Trooper Sauter’s brave calling and dedicated service.”
Sauter was “exactly the kind of man you would want as a police officer,” according to Captain Joe Perez, commander of District 15. “He was kind and compassionate. He often had violators thanking him after their ride to the station.”
Sauter, of Vernon Hills, who is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and other family, had been a trooper for nearly five years. He had been married less than two years and had no children,
Thursday morning police drove in procession as Sauter’s body, still trapped in his vehicle, was transported to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office,
There, dozens of police officers and state troopers stood at attention as firefighters cut away the twisted steel and removed him from the wreckage.
Sauter was a licensed pilot, had a degree in aviation from Lewis University and had completed a temporary assignment with the state police’s air operations unit before being reassigned about a month ago to ISP District 15 as a patrolman.
“He enjoyed personal contact and helping people and air operations did not afford him the same opportunities to do that,” said his friend and supervising officer Lt. Mark Karczewski.
Sauter’s aunt is a retired lieutenant colonel with the state police, which influenced his decision to become a police officer, Karczewski said.
“Jim had a strong Christian upbringing with strong family values and I think that led to him wanting to help other people,” Karczewski said. “The State Police provided him the opportunity.”
When not working, Sauter enjoyed weight training and fishing.
“I don’t think there was a guy in better shape than Jim,” said Karczewski, “but his heart was bigger than his biceps.”
Sauter graduated from Richards High School in Oak Lawn in 2003 but grew up in Chicago Ridge, said high school friend, Tricia McCullough.
“I guarantee you won’t find one person to say a bad thing about him,” said McCullough. “He had an amazing personality and such a zest for life.”
McCullough said she hadn’t spoken to Sauter in several years but had kept in contact via social media.
Whenever she chatted with him, Sauter loved to update her on his passion for flying airplanes, McCullough said.
Gil Yaras, who lives a few houses down from the home where Sauter grew up, said he remembered Sauter as a “big, tall strapping cop” who was as big as his father.
“That’s just horrendous,” Yaras said of the news of Sauter’s death. “You’re not supposed to outlive kids.”
Sauter and his family were members of Palos Bible Church, Pastor Robert Sheridan said. Sauter was an “important part of our youth group,” Sheridan said.
Richards varsity baseball coach Brian Wujcik said that Sauter played catcher for the freshman baseball team. Wujcik said the freshman coaches said he was a tough player.
“He was always willing to block balls in the dirt and get dirty and everything else,” Wujcik said.
In 2009, Sauter received the State Police’s Lifesaving Medal, for coming to the aid of a female motorcycle crash victim Oct. 12, 2008. Sauter was on his way to his academy training, when he saw a motorcycle on its side on Interstate 80, according to State Police. Emergency crews had yet to arrive. So Sauter grabbed his first responder bag and made his way across the freeway to help the woman. The woman lay face-down in a pool of blood.
“The subject’s airway was blocked due to the heavy amount of blood forming in her nose and mouth,” according a State Police report of the incident prepared for Sauter’s award. “Cadet Sauter used the bulb aspirator to remove the blood, which re-opened her airway. The female subject was airlifted to a nearby hospital and survived her injuries.”
Visitation will be Monday 2:00 - 8:00 p.m. at The Hills Funeral Home, 10201 South Roberts Road, Palos Hills. A funeral service will be Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. at Morraine Valley Church, 6300 W. 127th Street, Palos Heights.
Contributing: Art Golab