An Illinois trooper was killed overnight when a semi truck collided with his squad car in the northwest suburbs, police said.
Trooper James Sauter was pulled over on the left shoulder on I-294 south of Willow Road just after 11 p.m. when he was hit from behind by the semi. Both vehicles burst into flames, and 28-year-old Sauter was killed, Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau confirmed.
The driver of the semi escaped the flames with a burn to his hand. He is talking with police at the hospital and is expected to survive.
An autopsy revealed Sauter died of "thermal injuries from a post-crash fire," the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said. He also suffered inhalation and minor closed head injuries, according to the medical examiner’s office. His death was ruled an accident.
Sauter joined the force in June 2008 and he recently returned to patrol after spending several months as a pilot in the Air Operations department.
“Trooper Sauter represented everything good about the police department," Director Grau said Friday. "Our focus now is to be with the Sauter family every step of the way and to support his fellow officers and colleagues."
As crews cleaned up the crash scene, troopers escorted the man's body to the medical examiner's office. All lanes are back open on I-294, but earlier witnesses said it was hard to even make out the squad car among the tangled and burnt metal.
"We actually got stopped by traffic," witness Gaby Magana said. "We saw a semi on fire, and it was very frightening."
Sauter is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and his family.
"Trooper Sauter left a legacy of courage, honor and duty and we will never forget Star #6095," Grau said. "Our hearts are heavy with grief, but they are also strengthened by Trooper Sauter’s brave calling and dedicated service to ISP.”
Funeral services will begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Morraine Valley Church in Palos Heights.