Funeral for state trooper packed by police from across the state
The brotherhood of police officers shined Tuesday as friends and family gathered to mourn the death of Illinois State Police trooper James Sauter.
The streets surrounding Moraine Valley Church in Palos Heights were packed with police cars from departments all over the state and every seat at the funeral was filled, creating a sea of uniforms.
Sauter, 28, of Vernon Hills, died early Friday morning on the job after his car was hit from behind by a semi truck while on the Tri-State Tollway near Willow Road.
He was remembered at his funeral as a "peaceful warrior" who had a kind heart and a great soul.
An American flag that was later ceremoniously folded and given to Sauter's family draped his casket. A picture of Sauter in uniform along with his hat rested on top of the flag.
Sauter's younger brother Matt said in between smiles and tears that he was very thankful for the time he had with his only sibling.
"There's a million different names that can be used to describe him," Matt said. "It's not every day you can call someone like this your brother."
Underneath his black dress shirt Matt wore a Superman T-shirt in honor of his brother, who was obsessed with the superhero when he was younger. He said Sauter always tried to be a second father to him.
"He'd always set me straight," Matt said.
Matt thanked all the police for their support over the past few days. He said his brother fulfilled a lifelong dream by joining the force in 2008.
Tony Ferraro, who is married to the sister of Sauter's wife Elizabeth, shared how he and Sauter had a rocky start when they first met, but became close friends as time went by.
Ferraro broke down as he mentioned the things Sauter will miss out on, including the upcoming birth of his niece.
"The four of us talked about how fun it would be to raise our little ones together," he said, adding that he and his wife were hoping to move closer to Sauter and Elizabeth. "Seeing these dreams taken away is hard to comprehend."
Ferraro said before Sauter reported to work the night he died, Elizabeth had gotten some good news and he congratulated her with flowers and balloons and a card. He said when Sauter left he gave his wife -- whom he married on 10/10/10 -- a big, warm hug instead of a quick peck on the cheek.
"That was a perfect goodbye," he said.
Rev. Scott Bradley said he first met Sauter when he was a scrawny, but athletic seventh grader with a voice that cracked every few words.
Bradley told a story about taking a trip with the Palos Bible Church youth group to West Virginia when Sauter was a senior in high school.
He said he trusted Sauter to drive a group of kids who couldn't fit in vehicles with chaperones, but at one point he strayed from the caravan. When Sauter caught up with the group, he told Bradley he got caught in traffic.
Bradley said to laughs that two years ago Sauter finally confessed to what happened: he was pulled over by a state trooper -- which he would one day become -- for speeding.
Sauter kept in contact with Bradley over the years, even calling him one time to talk out a close call that happened while he was on patrol. Bradley asked if he was scared and Sauter responded that he wasn't scared to put on the uniform or get back in the car, but he was scared if next time it killed him, if his life really would have mattered.
"He was afraid was he doing enough for other people? Did his life make a difference in the life of other people?" Bradley said. "I am a living testament today that Jimmy Sauter's life meant something. His life mattered."
Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau said Illinois has lost "one of its protectors."
"We all take for granted when police officers come home safely," he said. "The most routine call could become tragic."
He added that Sauter exemplified the best and said everyone could be inspired by his life.
After the service, hundreds of police filed out, forming more than 15 rows in the parking lot of shiny black shoes, green uniforms and brown hats.
Bagpipes and drums played as the attendees flowed out of the church, and "Amazing Grace" and taps were performed.
Silence marked by the sound of sniffling accompanied Sauter's wife as she solemnly walked alone to the white casket. An airplane and police helicopter flew overhead in salute. The ceremony ended with a radio call to all Illinois State Police vehicles asking for a moment of silence, followed by a message to Sauter telling him this was his last call and may he rest in peace.