Illinois State Police trooper killed by wrong-way driver on tollway in Green Oaks
An Illinois State Police trooper killed by a wrong-way driver early Saturday morning on the Tri-State Tollway in Lake County was remembered as a man with a great sense of humor who worked hard to provide for his family.
Trooper Gerald "Jerry" Ellis, a military veteran, was traveling home to Antioch in his squad car when he was struck on I-94, state police said. Police said the fatal crash occurred about 3:25 a.m. at milepost 16.75 in Green Oaks, east of Libertyville.
Ellis, 36, is the third trooper -- and the second within a week -- to be killed in a crash or on the side of a road in 2019.
State police Acting Director Brendan Kelly called Ellis' death "bitter salt on an open wound." At a Saturday news conference in Waukegan, he implored people to consider the "fragility of life" before driving.
"How many more of these tragedies have to occur at the hands of drivers making dangerous choices behind the wheel?" Kelly said. "When will drivers open their eyes to the dangers they face and take them seriously?"
The driver and lone occupant of the other vehicle also died from injuries in the crash, Kelly said. The crash is under investigation, and the driver's name has not been released.
Ellis' survivors include his wife, Stacy, daughters Kaylee and Zoe, brother Keith and his parents.
Tabitha Ellis, the late trooper's sister-in-law, said he worked hard to provide for his family.
"Jerry was a wonderful man," she said. "He was a devoted father to his two young daughters. He loved his wife in the most beautiful way. When he and my husband would speak on the phone, Jerry was either at work or doing something with the girls. He had the greatest sense of humor and always kept us laughing. He will be deeply missed, and my heart aches for his wife and children."
Ellis was on duty in his squad car traveling home on westbound I-94 when the wrong-way driver heading east struck the trooper head on, police said. Ellis was taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where he was pronounced dead about 4:04 a.m., authorities said.
Kelly said crash reconstruction teams were part of the ongoing investigation. Without elaborating, he said of Ellis: "By doing what he did today (Saturday), he saved lives."
To honor Ellis, there was a law enforcement procession Saturday morning that began near the hospital at Condell Drive and Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville. The procession traveled north on Milwaukee and east on Washington Street in Gurnee before reaching the Lake County coroner's office in Waukegan.
Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg was among those at other law enforcement agencies who expressed sadness upon hearing of Ellis' death.
"This year, our staff have attended far too many funerals for police officers killed in the line of duty," Idleburg said in a statement to the Daily Herald. "These lost heroes put on the uniform and badge in the name of service, but didn't make it home to their loved ones -- they paid the ultimate sacrifice for their community."
Ellis, a Bears and Cubs fan, was an 11-year veteran of state police District 15, which is headquartered in Downers Grove and responsible for patrolling all 294 miles of interstate tollways in 12 counties in northern Illinois. He's the second state trooper from District 15 to die this year.
Christopher Lambert, a five-year veteran of District 15, was struck and killed by a vehicle on a snowy late afternoon Jan. 12 after he stopped to assist people involved in a three-car crash on I-294 near Willow Road. The 34-year-old trooper was off duty and on his way home to Highland Park.
On Thursday, state police Trooper Brooke Jones-Story was killed when she was hit by a truck during a traffic stop in Freeport, authorities said.
State police held a news conference two days before Jones-Story was fatally struck to say 14 squad cars had been hit on the side of Illinois roads in 2019.
Kelly said it's been 66 years since three state troopers died in one year while performing their job.
"But know this," he said. "Our hearts may be broken, but our resolve is not. There are only two ways this stops. People drive safely or troopers stop patrolling. And there is nothing and no one on earth, or in heaven or hell, that will ever keep these troopers from doing the job that they swore to do."
Donations to the Ellis FamilyDonations may be made to the Ellis family by visiting the Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation website at www.isphf.org/donations. Those making donations should note Trooper Gerald Ellis Memorial Fund in the comments section. Donations also can be mailed to Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 8168, Springfield, Illinois, 62791.