Updated 04/03/13 – 1:12 p.m.
PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. (CBS) – Hundreds of police officers packed into a Palos Heights church on Tuesday for the funeral of Trooper James Sauter, who was killed last week when a semi-trailer truck slammed into his patrol car.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, hours before Sauter’s funeral at Moraine Valley Church in Palos Heights, police officers from as far away as Alaska showed up at the church to honor a fallen officer. Hundreds of squad cars from various law enforcement agencies filled the parking lots surrounding the church.
“Jim’s spirit and the person that he was touched so many of us,” said Illinois State Police Trooper Annamarie Ragan. “Even though he was a giant of a man, a big strapping guy, he had a smile that was the size of Mount Rushmore. It was very difficult to not find yourself smiling after being with him for just a few moments.”
Sauter’s fellow troopers called him a “road dog,” an honorary nickname for troopers who loved working patrol
“For us, that’s quite a compliment. For a guy who wants to be a road dog, that’s a compliment when a guy gets called that; a guy who likes working the street,” said Sauter’s commanding officer, State Police Cmdr. Joe Perez.
Trooper Mark Karczewski was Sauter’s fishing buddy.
“With Jim, patrol was where he wanted to be, and I think that was his best fit. I think he was a people person,” he said.
Perez said people often thanked Sauter after he gave them a ticket, and promised to do better.
“He was the epitome of a trooper; big, strong, strapping boy. He is the kind of man that you wanted showing up if your own family needed assistance on the side of the road,” he said. “The kind of guy he got thanked – and I heard it and saw it more than once – he got thanked by people when they got a ticket. You know, that’s the kind of personality he had, the way he dealt with the public.”
Tuesday morning, Karczewski looked out at row after row of police cars, filling several parking lots around the church for Sauter’s funeral.
“I think it’s a huge sign of support,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance that everyone has to come together, but it’s a sign of support, and I know the family respects the law enforcement community’s position with this, and I think it’s helping them heal as well.”
Asked what he was going through on Tuesday, five days after his friend’s death, Karczewski said “quite a bit, but I’m going to focus and keep it together for the family one more day. Tomorrow will be my day to grieve and start the healing process.”
Sauter was killed late Thursday night, when a semi-trailer truck slammed into the back of his cruiser as he was parked on the shoulder of the Tri-State Tollway in Northbrook.
The driver was cited for improper lane usage. State Police Director Hiram Grau said the investigation was continuing Tuesday, with no word yet on whether further charges were forthcoming.
Sauter, 28, was a licensed pilot and had previously worked for the Illinois State Police Air Operations unit for a couple months, but decided to return to patrol duties.
A fly-by from a helicopter and a fixed-wing plane honored Sauter’s sevice with the state police aerial unit, but his partner for three years, said Sauter realized, he loved patrolling highways most.
“Great hearted, family man, loved his wife, loved his family, and was always willing to help others…not only as a trooper but outside of work as well,” said Jason Bradley.
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.
Sauter grew up in Chicago Ridge, and is survived by his wife, parents, and brother.
His wake was held Monday at Moraine Valley Church.