Widow Sues Truck Driver, Moving Companies in Trooper’s Death

Lawsuit claims truck driver fell asleep and crashed into state trooper's squad car

Friday, Jan 10, 2014  |  Updated 9:45 AM CDT
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An Illinois trooper was killed early Friday when a semi truck crashed into James Sauter's squad car. Officials said Sauter had finished helping a motorist when he stopped on the left shoulder of I-294.

An Illinois trooper was killed early Friday when a semi truck crashed into James Sauter's squad car. Officials said Sauter had finished helping a motorist when he stopped on the left shoulder of I-294.

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Trooper James Sauter represented everything good about the police department," Illinois State Police Director Hiram 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."

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The widow of an Illinois state trooper killed in March after a Wisconsin truck driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel of his semi has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and the companies he worked for that day.

Elizabeth Sauter, widow of Trooper James Sauter, filed her suit at the end of 2013, records show. She is suing Andrew Bokelman, United Van Lines LLC, Unigroup Inc., and Suddath Relocation Systems of Minnesota and Milwaukee, doing business as Barrett Moving & Storage, the Sun-Times is reporting.

Bokelman, 26, has already been criminally charged in Cook County for violating federal safety laws meant to keep tired truck drivers off the road. Prosecutors said he’d already worked a 12-hour shift when he dozed off behind the wheel on the Tri-State Tollway near Glenview about 11 p.m. on March 28.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show Bokelman and United Van Lines were fined for breaking a federal rule prohibiting drivers on duty more than 14 hours from driving without getting 10 hours of rest.

Bokelman, who worked for United Van Lines agent Barrett Moving and Storage, was fined $2,500. United Van Lines was fined $5,500.

Bokelman’s attorney and representatives of United Van Lines, Unigroup and Suddath did not immediately respond to messages left seeking comment.

The new lawsuit alleges Sauter was parked on the left-hand shoulder of southbound I-294 near mile marker 48.5 on March 28. Bokelman, meanwhile, was driving a 2005 freightliner pulling a trailer loaded with household goods weighing more than 26,001 pounds and owned by United Van Lines. Bokelman was driving south on I-294 in the far left lane.

He’d already worked that day from 6:31 a.m. until 6:32 p.m. in Wisconsin loading the semi, the lawsuit said. He drove the semi between 7:14 p.m. and 7:34 p.m. in Wisconsin, it said, and again at 8:49 p.m. until the crash occurred at 11:03 p.m.

That’s when the lawsuit said Bokelman fell asleep and his semi veered off the road onto the left shoulder, crashing into the rear of Sauter’s squad car.

Sauter’s vehicle was engulfed in flames, according to the lawsuit, and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office determined he died of thermal injuries from the fire.

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