NORTHBROOK, Ill. (CBS) – An Illinois State Police trooper was killed overnight in a fiery crash on the Tri-State Tollway in north suburban Northbrook.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports the trooper’s squad car was rear-ended by a semi-trailer truck around 11 p.m. Thursday in the southbound lanes of Interstate 294 near Willow Road.
State Police Director Hiram Grau said the trooper’s car was parked on the left shoulder of the tollway at the time of the crash. He said Trooper James Sauter had just been helping a motorist a short time earlier on Interstate 94, about five miles away, before returning to patrol duties on southbound I-294.
The cruiser and the cab of the truck were severely damaged and burst into flames as a result of the crash.
Sauter, 28, of Vernon Hills, was pronounced dead at the scene about three hours later.
The truck driver suffered a burn to his hand, but otherwise was not seriously hurt, according to Grau.
Grau said police did not know if the squad car’s emergency lights were activated at the time of the crash.
“It was a pretty horrific accident, as you can well imagine, so we don’t have all the details yet,” Grau said.
Grau also said it was not immediately clear why Sauter had stopped on the shoulder.
“He may have gotten a communication over the radio, he might have been finishing up some paperwork. We don’t know that yet,” he said.
Sauter joined the state police on June 29, 2008.
“Trooper Sauter represented everything good about this department,” Grau said. “Our focus now is to be with the Sauter family every step of the way, and to support his fellow officers and his colleagues.”
Sauter had previously worked as a pilot for the ISP Air Ops unit for a couple months, but decided to return to patrol duties.
In October 2008, while still a cadet, Sauter received the department’s Lifesaving Medal, after running to the aid of a woman who had been in a motorcycle accident on Interstate 80. He grabbed his first responder bag and tended to a woman who was face down in a pool of blood. He helped clear blood from her airway before she was airlifted to a nearby hospital.
“Trooper Sauter was a very talented, wonderful police officer,” Grau said. “As you can imagine, his fellow troopers, his fellow officers are devastated.”
Grau said he spent some time with Sauter’s widow early Friday. He said it was “a very difficult time” for her, as well as Sauter’s parents and brother.
“They’re all devastated, as we all are,” he said.
Dozens of Chicago police officers lined up outside the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, saluting as Sauter’s body arrived there Friday morning.
Investigators were in the process of reconstructing the crash and interviewing witnesses and the truck driver, in an effort to determine the cause of the crash.
Grau said blood alcohol tests would be conducted to determine if drugs or alcohol were a factor.
He advised motorists to give emergency vehicles plenty of room when they are seen parked on the shoulder, by making sure there is at least one lane between them.
“If you see emergency vehicles, you have to get over and stay a safe distance away,” Grau said.
Friday afternoon, The 100 Club presented Sauter’s family with a check to help with expenses. It was the first installment of what will total $50,000.
Funeral arrangements were being worked out.
Sauter was the second state trooper to die in the line of duty in the past five months.
In late November, Trooper Kyle Deatherage was killed in a crash with a semi-trailer truck as he was conducting a traffic stop on Interstate 55 near Litchfield, about 55 miles northwest of St. Louis.