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Article updated: 4/2/2013 9:52 AM

Mourners pack church for trooper's visitation

By Jessica Cilella

Mourners flooded into Moraine Valley Church in Palos Heights Monday to pay their respects to an Illinois State Police trooper from Vernon Hills who died early Friday on the job.

Family members, friends, police from countless departments and civilians stood in a long line, at times flowing outside the church doors, to say goodbye to 28-year-old James Sauter, a decorated trooper who joined the state police in 2008.

State Police Sgt. Clare Pfotenhauer said Sauter's death comes just a few months after the agency lost a 32-year-old trooper in a road accident downstate.

"Both of them were so young in age and young on the job," Pfotenhauer said. "It's just too close for comfort."

Sauter was pronounced dead early Friday morning after his patrol car was hit by a semitrailer truck on the Tri-State Tollway near Northbrook.

Pfotenhauer expected thousands of mourners to attend Monday's visitation. A funeral is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church.

"People will just come just to pay their respects," she said. "They'll come from out-of-state, in-state. One gentleman came to pay his respects just to say thank you."

Fay Dowding, a friend of Sauter's mother, called the attendance at the visitation "tremendous."

"I was in awe of it," she said, noting that the church was lined with pictures of Sauter for visitors to view as they waited in line. "I think he was well-liked and well-loved."

Caryn Tatelli of Highland Park remembers taking her three children to a water park with Sauter and his future wife, Elizabeth, who was their baby sitter at the time. She said her children immediately took a liking to Sauter and tagged along with him all day.

"I remember when we met James how impressed we were by the obvious connection they (him and his wife) had and their love for each other," she said. "My kids felt incredibly safe with James. They still remember that feeling of being safe. I think that's incredible, especially given how young they were."

Tatelli said she was horrified when she heard the news that Sauter had died.

"I actually couldn't really believe it. I had to keep reading news story to kind of convince myself it was true," she said.

Dan Drzyzga, the husband of one of Sauter's cousins, said some of the trooper's favorite activities included fishing with his grandfather and flying small gas-powered airplanes with his dad in a nearby forest preserve.

"He loved his family more than anything," said Drzyzga, of New Lenox.

Illinois State Police Trooper Ray Kurut met Sauter when they attended the police academy together.

"Jim was genuinely one of the kindest warmest people you'll ever meet," he said. "He did this job full of heart. He served the state of Illinois and the people of Illinois with his whole heart and soul."

Kurut said while Sauter would have been happy flying a police airplane, serving as a K-9 officer or providing enforcement on a police motorcycle, he enjoyed road patrol the best.

"This uniform is what he loved," he said. "He just didn't look right without it. He loved just representing the state police."

Sauter is survived by his wife, his parents and a younger brother. He grew up in Chicago Ridge, attended Richards High School, then graduated from Lewis University in 2008.

As a state police cadet, he received a Lifesaving Medal for rescuing a woman who was face down in a pool of blood after a motorcycle accident in October 2008. According to reports, Sauter crossed two lanes of traffic on Interstate 80 to reach her.

Dowding said Sauter's mother and wife were "holding up very well."

"He was a Christian. We know where he is," she said with a smile.

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