Widow sues truck driver, moving companies in trooper’s death
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter January 9, 2014 10:06AM
Updated: February 11, 2014 6:19AM
The widow of an Illinois state trooper killed in March after a Wisconsin truck driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel of his semi has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and the companies he worked for that day.
Elizabeth Sauter, widow of Trooper James Sauter, filed her lawsuit at the end of 2013, records show. She is suing Andrew Bokelman, United Van Lines LLC, Unigroup Inc., and Suddath Relocation Systems of Minnesota and Milwaukee doing business as Barrett Moving & Storage.
Bokelman, 26, has already been criminally charged in Cook County for violating federal safety laws meant to keep tired truck drivers off the road. Prosecutors said he worked a 12-hour shift March 28 before he dozed off behind the wheel on the Tri-State Tollway near Glenview about 11 p.m.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show Bokelman and United Van Lines were fined for breaking a federal rule prohibiting drivers on duty more than 14 hours from driving without getting 10 hours of rest.
Bokelman, who worked for United Van Lines agent Barrett Moving and Storage, was fined $2,500. United Van Lines was fined $5,500.
Bokelman’s attorney declined to comment, but United Van Lines and Unigroup released a written statement Thursday afternoon:
“We are aware of the lawsuit that has been filed related to the crash on March 28, 2013,” it said. “We continue to be deeply saddened by the loss of Trooper Sauter. Because of now active litigation, we are unable to make further statements at this time.”
The new lawsuit alleges Sauter was parked on the left-hand shoulder of southbound Interstate 294 near mile marker 48.5 on March 28. Bokelman, meanwhile, was driving a 2005 freightliner pulling a trailer loaded with household goods weighing more than 26,001 pounds and owned by United Van Lines. Bokelman was driving south on I-294 in the far left lane.
He’d already worked that day from 6:31 a.m. until 6:32 p.m. in Wisconsin loading the semi, the lawsuit said. He drove the semi between 7:14 p.m. and 7:34 p.m. in Wisconsin, it said, and again at 8:49 p.m. until the crash occurred at 11:03 p.m.
That’s when the lawsuit said Bokelman fell asleep and his semi veered off the road onto the left shoulder, crashing into the rear of Sauter’s squad car.
Sauter was engulfed in flames, according to the lawsuit, and the Cook County medical examiner determined Sauter died of thermal injuries from the fire that ensued.