James Sauter was on duty in his Illinois State Police squad car after helping a motorist when his vehicle was rear-ended by a moving van at I-294 southbound at Willow Road. Both vehicles burst into flames. Sauter was pronounced dead at the scene Friday at 2:15 a.m.
The death of Trooper Sauter is the second line of duty death of an Illinois state trooper in the last five months. Both killed by trucks during stops on interstate shoulders.
Sauter had been a member of the Illinois State Police since June 29, 2008. Trooper Sauter had just completed a temporary assignment in Air Operations and was recently re-assigned to District 15 as a patrolman.
Trooper Sauter is survived by his wife, Elizabeth and family.
Sauter received a Lifesaving Medal while still a cadet in October of 2008 after coming across a motorcycle on its side on eastbound I-80. The ISP says Sauter grabbed his first responder bag and crossed over the lanes of traffic to assist a woman face down in a pool of blood. The ISP says Sauter cleared blood from the woman's airway, and she survived.
"Trooper Sauter left a legacy of courage, honor and duty," ISP Director Hiram Grau. "Our hearts are heavy with grief, but they are also strengthened by Trooper Sauter's brave calling and dedicated service."
State police were uncertain as to why Trooper Sauter had stopped on the inside shoulder or whether his emergency flashers were on,
"He may have gotten communications over the radio or maybe was doing a report. I don't know that yet," Grau said.
The driver of the United Van Lines moving van Involved in the accident did not suffer any life-threatening injuries. He has been hospitalized as a precaution and is answering questions and undergoing tests that will be used in the investigation.
"Certainly his blood and alcohol will be tested," Grau said. "We don't have the results yet though."
Sauter's colleagues hung mourning flags and covered their badges in Sauter's honor.
"Trooper Sauter represented everything good about our department. Now, we need to be with the Sauter family and support his fellow officers and colleagues. I offer my sincere condolences to the entire Sauter family," said Grau. "I'm standing here with a heavy heart along with my fellow officers this morning to announce another tragic loss to our police family."
Sauter was also a licensed pilot who briefly worked state police air ops but chose to come back to the road.
"He was the kind of man you wanted showing up when your family needed help. He was the kind of man who was often thanked by violators for getting a ticket, that's the kind of personality he had," said Captain Joe Perez.
Friday afternoon district commanders visited Sauters' home and family along with representatives of the 100 Club, which provides financial help to fallen police and firefighters.
"An impeccable trooper, kept himself in top physical shape, interacted well with his peers, his supervisors, as well as the motoring public that he came in contact with," said colleague and friend Lt. Mark Karczewski.
Sauter lived in Vernon Hills where trooper cars were standing guard by his home.
"I spent some time with his wife Liz this morning and as you can imagine, it is a very difficult time for her and her family," Grau said. "And his dad Donald, they are all devastated as we all are."
"We were just driving on I-294 going southbound. We actually got stopped by traffic. We saw a semi on fire; it was very frightening. We stopped here until they can clean up all the mess," said witness Gaby Magana.