State troopers honor late colleague with truck safety campaign

  • Family members of Illinois State Trooper James Sauter attended a ceremony in 2015 dedicating the Tri-State Tollway overpass at Willow Road in the fallen trooper's memory.

      Family members of Illinois State Trooper James Sauter attended a ceremony in 2015 dedicating the Tri-State Tollway overpass at Willow Road in the fallen trooper's memory. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, 2015

 
Posted3/31/2017 5:00 AM

When state officials and law enforcement leaders gathered in 2015 to dedicate the Willow Road Overpass along the Tri-State Tollway in Des Plaines in memory of Illinois State Police Trooper James Sauter, his widow called the fallen officer from Vernon Hills "a man of purpose."

Former colleagues across the state embodied that spirit this week as they took part in Operation Sauter, an intensive 24-hour safety campaign aimed at preventing the circumstances that led to Sauter's tragic death in the line of duty.

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Sauter, 28, was killed March 28, 2013, when a truck driver who had been on the road for 12 hours without rest hit his squad car, which was stopped on the shoulder on I-294 near Northbrook.

Fittingly, the focus of Operation Sauter was commercial truck enforcement. Troopers checked drivers' logbooks to ensure compliance with laws that limit long-haul drivers to 70 hours of driving per week, and strictly enforced speeding, distracted driving and other traffic regulations.

Trooper James Sauter was killed March 28, 2013, when his squad car was hit by a truck driven by a man who had been on the road for 12 hours without rest
Trooper James Sauter was killed March 28, 2013, when his squad car was hit by a truck driven by a man who had been on the road for 12 hours without rest - Courtesy of Illinois State Police

Sauter was one of two state troopers struck and killed by a commercial truck within the last four years. The other, Doug Balder of Oswego, was seriously injured when he was hit by a fatigued truck driver on I-88 in Aurora, a crash that claimed the life of tollway worker Vincent Petrella of Wheeling.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It has been four years since the tragic loss of Trooper James Sauter, but we will continue to honor his legacy by enforcing road safety laws and keeping the highways of this state safe for all who travel on them," State Police Director Leo P. Schmitz said.

The trucker who caused the crash that killed Sauter -- Andrew Bokelman, 26, of Wisconsin -- was sentenced last year to two years in prison. He is now out on parole.

Going out on top

Former Buffalo Grove police officer James Harris knows how to make an exit.

Former Buffalo Grove police officer James Harris, left, gets a handshake from Village Manager Dane Bragg last week after receiving the Rotary Club of Buffalo Grove's Officer of the Year Award. The honor capped a 32-year career in law enforcement for Harris, who recently retired.
  Former Buffalo Grove police officer James Harris, left, gets a handshake from Village Manager Dane Bragg last week after receiving the Rotary Club of Buffalo Grove's Officer of the Year Award. The honor capped a 32-year career in law enforcement for Harris, who recently retired. - Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

In the same month he retired after an illustrious 32-year career in law enforcement, Harris last week was named the Rotary Club of Buffalo Grove's police officer of the year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Known around town as "Big Jim," Harris had a reputation as an expert in truck enforcement, Daily Herald Staff Writer Steve Zalusky tells us. In fact, in his acceptance speech -- which Harris had Sgt. Anthony Goldstein read for him -- he called truck enforcement his calling.

Harris thanked several people, including "all those truckers who didn't kick me after I told them I was writing them a ticket for several thousands of dollars, most recently an $81,000 ticket.

"Several of these truckers, I now call friends," he said.

Reversal of fortune

A state appeals court has given new hope to a Lake County man serving time in connection with a particularly abhorrent set of molestation claims.

In 2014, Hector Picaso was sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of sexual assault and abuse, but a state appeals court tossed the convictions on most of the counts against him and ordered a new trial for the remaining two.
In 2014, Hector Picaso was sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of sexual assault and abuse, but a state appeals court tossed the convictions on most of the counts against him and ordered a new trial for the remaining two.

In a unanimous ruling handed down last week, justices tossed Hector Picaso's convictions on one count of sex assault and three counts of sex abuse, and ordered a new trial on one remaining count of each charge.

In 2014, Picaso, 64, of Wadsworth, was sentenced to 14 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of charges that he repeatedly molested a woman with Down syndrome at Lambs Farm, a Libertyville-area facility that serves people with developmental disabilities. Authorities say the 36-year-old woman worked for Picaso in 2012 as part of a cleaning crew.

In its 16-page decision, the appellate court ruled that prosecutors didn't prove Picaso had used force against the woman, as the charges alleged.

And although it ultimately didn't matter in the ruling, justices did not look kindly upon the prosecutor telling jurors Picaso was a "predator" who "hunted down" the woman, or his reference to her being like a lamb being led to the slaughter.

"Name-calling in an effort to prejudice the jury is unacceptable and improper," the court wrote.

What's next? Picaso will be returned to Lake County from his current home in the Big Muddy Correctional Center and await a second trial or some other disposition of his case.

Heroin help in jail

The McHenry County jail, like most around here, has long offered Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for inmates.

But in January, it added Narcotics Anonymous. That's because more and more, the jail's "clients" are there because of issues with cocaine, heroin and prescription painkillers.

"We're just trying to do something different" to help them, said Jason Sterwerf, director of the office of special projects for the 22nd Circuit Court district.

He leads the weekly meeting for men; a social worker from the McHenry County state's attorney's office leads the one for women. Weekly attendance is about 12 to 16 women and 40 men.

While NA and AA have much in common, NA deals more specifically with issues unique to the drugs with which its attendees struggle, Sterwerf said.

The only cost for the program is $11 for the "Narcotics Anonymous" handbook, which the jail makes available upon request.

Are those attending sincere, or are they just looking for something to do to pass the time?

It doesn't matter, according to the McHenry County drug-court graduate who helps them lead the program.

"He says, 'They are still there, listening. They will still take away some piece of information'" that may one day resonate with them, Sterwerf said.

Help, please

Kane County jail used to offer Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

"Unfortunately, our NA volunteer quit about a year ago. We do not have a staff paid position for these services," said Lt. Patrick Gengler, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

"They are part of a large contingent of people who provide volunteer services to our detainees."

They would really like to have them again and asked us to put the word out.

If you are interested, visit the "Volunteer Opportunities" page on the sheriff's website, kanesheriff.com. It says the deadline to apply for training this spring was Feb. 28, but you could get the ball rolling on getting in to the next session.

• Got a tip? Have a question? Please email Charles Keeshan and Susan Sarkauskas at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com, or call our tip line at (847) 427-4483.

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