Trooper killed in crash honored with tollway overpass
A permanent reminder about the human cost of dangerous driving will now be seen by millions who travel on the Tri-State Tollway (I-294).
State officials Tuesday renamed the Willow Road overpass in Des Plaines the Trooper James Sauter Memorial Willow Road Overpass. It honors the 28-year-old trooper from Vernon Hills who was killed when a fatigued trucker hit his squad car, which was stopped on the shoulder March 28, 2013.
"James was a man of purpose," his widow Liz Kelly said. "Far too many are killed by automobile crashes that are preventable."
"I hope it is a reminder to people to drive carefully," Sauter's brother, Matt, said. "Day after day I see people flying by squad cars as if they're not there and it sickens me."
Friends and family remembered Sauter as a kid who loved Superman and wanted to be a pilot initially, then put his heart into police work.
When the crash that killed Sauter occurred, United Van Lines truck driver Andrew B. Brokelman had been driving for more than 12 hours without a rest, a federal investigation found. Brokelman was fined $2,500 and United Van Lines $5,000 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
He faces charges of driving a commercial motor vehicle while fatigued, driving beyond duty status and falsifying duty records in Cook County court.
In January 2014, tollway worker Vincent Petrella was killed and State Trooper Doug Balder was injured on I-88 in Aurora when another fatigued truck driver struck their vehicles while they were helping a motorist.
Metra Police Chief Joseph M. Perez, who knew Sauter from his former job as State Police Region 1 commander, contends that police and the public are still at risk from fatigued truckers.
The problem is drivers exceeding their hours and companies punishing their workers if they don't work long hours, Perez said.
The day he died, Sauter showed up early and helped out a motorist before being fatally struck, the chief recalled.
"He was the guy that, if your family was stranded on the side of the road, you'd want to help you," Perez said.
The dedication occurred a day after the funeral for Fox Lake police Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz, who was killed while chasing three suspects.
"Never has this profession become more challenging," state Rep. Carol Sente said.
State Rep. John Cabello, a Machesney Park Republican, said the government has let down police and offered an apology. "We cut your budget, we send you out to do an impossible job without proper backup," he said.
Legislation Cabello sponsored increasing penalties on truckers who violate safety regulations will go into effect Jan. 1.