On the day he died last Thursday, Illinois State Trooper James Sauter got some especially good news from his wife Elizabeth.
At his funeral Tuesday, Sauter’s brother-in-law Tony Ferraro was not more specific. But he said Sauter was overjoyed, and bought his wife a bouquet of flowers and a balloon.
Ferraro said Sauter gave her an especially heartfelt embrace as he left for work, "the kind of goodbye you give if you know you’re leaving and never coming back."
Indeed, Sauter never returned. That night his police cruiser was hit by a semi-trailer truck on the shoulder of the Tri-State Tollway near Willow Road. The trooper was just 28 years old.
"More than an outstanding trooper, he was an outstanding human being," said fellow trooper Jason Bradley. "Great hearted, a family man. He loved his wife and loved his family, and he was always willing to help others not only as a trooper but outside of work as well."
The service at Moraine Valley Church in Palos Heights was packed with first responders. A state police spokesman said law enforcement officers from 25 states were in attendance. At least 500 troopers from the Illinois State Police packed the sanctuary.
"It shows what kind of man this was," said State Police director Hiram Grau. "And all these people coming across the country to pay their respects is very heartwarming to all of us."
"I saw some troopers from Alaska this morning," said Mark Karczewski, Sauter’s supervisor and one of his best friends. "Jim was involved in four crashes. I handled his first two and was at his last two. Unfortunately in the last one, it wasn’t meant to be."
The driver of the truck, who has not been named, was cited for illegal lane usage. Both vehicles caught fire, and Sauter’s squad car was so heavily damaged he had to be cut from the wreckage at the Cook County Morgue.
"He was the epitome of a trooper," said Joe Perez, Sauter’s commander at District 15, which has responsibilities for the Illinois Tollway system. "He was the kind of guy you wanted if your own family needed assistance on the side of the road."
At the end of the proceedings, after Sauter’s flag-draped casket was carried from the Church, two state aircraft staged a flyby in commemoration of the trooper’s service as a pilot in the state police air unit. Colleagues fired a 21 gun salute. Two buglers played taps.
"From his family, to his church, to the ISP, he was just a great man," said trooper Annmarie Ragan. "Even though a giant of a man, a big strapping guy, he had a smile that was the size of Mount Rushmore."
As a final tribute, a speaker on a state police squad car broadcast a radio call, which at that moment was being sent statewide to members of the Illinois State Police, asking that they all pause for a moment of silence.
"James Sauter, this is your final 10-42 call," the message said, referencing the radio code for a trooper ending his shift. "On behalf of the people of Illinois, thank you for your service. May you rest in peace."
The 100 Club of Chicago stepped forward last week to assist Sauter's family, offering them the first installment of what will eventually be $50,000 in support.