14 in 11 weeks: More Illinois troopers hit on the road already this year than in all of 2018

  • It's been a dangerous year for Illinois State Police troopers, whose patrol cars already have been hit on 14 occasions while stopped with their emergency lights flashing.

    It's been a dangerous year for Illinois State Police troopers, whose patrol cars already have been hit on 14 occasions while stopped with their emergency lights flashing. Courtesy of Illinois State Police

  • Illinois State Police say a truck sideswiped this trooper's patrol car earlier this year as he was conducting a traffic stop in Ogle County. The trooper escaped with minor injuries.

    Illinois State Police say a truck sideswiped this trooper's patrol car earlier this year as he was conducting a traffic stop in Ogle County. The trooper escaped with minor injuries. Courtesy of Illinois State Police

 

The message was simple, a bit humorous and deadly serious: "Today is 'Don't Drive Like a #Knucklehead Day,'" Illinois State Police said in a Twitter post March 3.

In a follow-up tweet, state police sent out an image of the smashed rear end of a trooper's patrol SUV stopped along a snowy road. "When will this stop? Our 11th squad car has been struck since Jan. 1, 2019. That's approximately one every 5.5 days."

It hasn't stopped. In fact, in the days since those Twitter posts, three more state police cruisers have been hit while stopped along a road with emergency lights flashing. That makes 14 so far this year, already more than than in each of 2017 and 2018.

And these aren't mere fender benders. Eleven of the crashes left troopers injured, and one killed Trooper Christopher Lambert of Highland Park. He was struck while helping drivers on I-294 near Northbrook.

Illinois state trooper Christopher Lambert, 34, of Highland Park was killed Jan. 12 when he was struck by a car as he helped other drivers along I-294 near Northbrook.
Illinois state trooper Christopher Lambert, 34, of Highland Park was killed Jan. 12 when he was struck by a car as he helped other drivers along I-294 near Northbrook.

Authorities allege the Wisconsin man who hit him didn't abide by Scott's Law, aka the "move over" law, which requires drivers to slow down and yield to stopped emergency vehicles. He's charged with reckless homicide.

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Another state trooper was injured Sunday night when a suspected drunken driver barreled into his squad -- again, pulled over with its flashing lights on -- along I-80 near Joliet. And another happened Wednesday night, when a trooper dealing with a downed light pole on I-55 in downstate St. Clair County suffered serious injuries after a semitrailer-truck hit him and his vehicle.

What's going on out there? Sgt. Delila Garcia told us this week there's no simple, obvious answer.

"We can't really speculate as to why this is happening or what's driving this," Garcia said. Drunken driving has been to blame in some instances, but other crashes have been the result of people driving too fast for conditions, failing to move over for emergency vehicles and driving while distracted.

What can be done?

The crumpled remains of an Illinois State Police patrol car after it was hit by a car Wednesday night while stopped along I-55 in downstate St. Clair County. It was the 14th time this year a state police vehicle has been hit while stopped with its emergency lights flashing.
The crumpled remains of an Illinois State Police patrol car after it was hit by a car Wednesday night while stopped along I-55 in downstate St. Clair County. It was the 14th time this year a state police vehicle has been hit while stopped with its emergency lights flashing. - Courtesy of Illinois State Police

State police and other law enforcement agencies have been spreading the word about Scott's Law since its passage in 2002. It's named after a Chicago firefighter killed by a drunken driver on the scene of a crash along the Bishop Ford Freeway. Under the law, as it was updated in 2017, drivers approaching any vehicle pulled over with lights flashing must slow down and, if possible, change lanes to create more space.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"First responders, and all emergency personnel, risk their lives daily to help and protect the public," Garcia said. "We would like to ask the public to make sure they obey all traffic laws, including Scott's Law."

They're also stepping up enforcement. Already this year, troopers have issued 494 citations for violations of the move-over law, compared to 181 over the same time period last year.

An Illinois State Police trooper suffered minor injuries Sunday night when he was hit in his patrol car while conducting a traffic stop near Joliet. The driver who hit the trooper's vehicle has been charged with DUI and violating Scott's Law.
An Illinois State Police trooper suffered minor injuries Sunday night when he was hit in his patrol car while conducting a traffic stop near Joliet. The driver who hit the trooper's vehicle has been charged with DUI and violating Scott's Law. - Courtesy of Illinois State Police

And they're reminding people that the law doesn't just protect police and first responders but others who get stuck along the road. Anyone who's had a flat tire or breakdown along a busy expressway can relate to how nerve-wracking it is to stand by as vehicles whiz past at 70 mph or more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Think about your mom or your dad or your sister out there on the side of the road," Garcia said. "Doing that might be a way to get people to be aware and slow down."

Hazard pay

It might not mean much relative to the dangers they face, but at least we pay our law enforcement officers well here in Illinois.

According to a report published this month by the home security website YourLocalSecurity.com, police in the Land of Lincoln earn a mean salary of $73,870, ranking them the sixth-best paid in the nation. California ranks first, at $100,090, followed by New Jersey, Alaska, Washington and Nevada. Mississippi ranks last.

Stun gun ruling

In a decision stemming from a pair of cases out of DuPage County, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday the state cannot require a person packing a stun gun to abide by the same regulations -- and obtain the same licenses -- as those carrying a concealed firearm.

The unanimous decision involved a pair of men charged with misdemeanor unlawful use of weapon charges in 2016 for carrying concealed stun guns. Isiah J. Webb was charged in February that year after Westmont police found he had a stun gun in his jacket pocket while parked in a car.

Ronald A. Greco was charged that August after he was found with a stun gun in his backpack while visiting the Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve.

A DuPage County judge tossed charges against both, ruling they violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms. State officials appealed, but the Supreme Court side with the defendants.

Learn to avoid scams ...

U.S. Reps. Brad Schneider and Jan Schakowsky are teaming up Saturday to host a Consumer Protection and Fraud Prevention Workshop to help constituents recognize and avoid scams, especially those targeting seniors.

Officials from the Federal Trade Commission and Illinois attorney general's office will discuss identity theft, impostor scams and debt collection scams, among others.

The free event is set for 10 a.m. to noon at the Glenview Public Library, 1930 Glenview Road in Glenview.

... and worse

Schaumburg is hosting a pair of free Mass Violence, Awareness, Preparedness and Response seminars in the coming weeks. The two-hour-long programs, scheduled for March 30 and May 4, will teach best practices and options available in an active shooter or other mass violence event.

Participants must be at least 18 to attend, or 13 with a parent or guardian.

For more information and to register, visit http://bit.ly/2zmHaL8.

Questions? Contact Lt. Dawn McDermott at dmcdermott@schaumburg.com or (847) 348-7275.

Movin' on up

Congratulations to a trio of Arlington Heights police officers moving up the ranks. In a ceremony led this week by Mayor Tom Hayes, former Sgt. Charles Buczynski was sworn in as a police commander, and former officers Timothy Jasper and Brandi Romag were elevated to the rank of sergeant.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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