PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) — Hundreds of law enforcement officials filled a suburban Chicago church on Tuesday to hear Illinois State Police Trooper James Sauter described as a man who had a lasting impact on everyone who knew him.
Sauter, from Vernon Hills, died last week after a semi-truck slammed into his squad car as it idled on the shoulder of Interstate 294 in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook. Sauter had been a state trooper for nearly five years.
"His gentle and fun loving spirit will always be with us," State Police Director Hiram Grau said. "Trooper Jim Sauter, your watch has ended."
Thousands of people, including police and other first responders, showed up at Morraine Valley Church in Palos Heights, filling the adjacent parking lot as well as nearby residential streets and parking lots of nearby businesses for his funeral.
The service was both solemn and light-hearted, as Sauter's aunt, Patti Duffin, remembered how she once put her nephew in charge of the other children for a round of trick or treating. She said his instructions were to visit only six houses on the block. But to get more candy, James had the children switch costumes and visit the same six houses.
"He must have had a feminine side, because he took the outfit of Wonder Woman," Duffin said.
Matt Sauter, James' younger brother, opted for a Superman shirt instead of a suit and tie to honor his 28-year-old brother, who is also survived by his wife.
Matt Sauter had all of the state troopers, dressed in their formal green uniforms, stand up so he could thank them. He recalled his brother setting him straight if he was acting like a bad son or a brother.
"He always tried being my second father," Matt said. "I'm blessed with a gift many don't have. A gift of a big brother."
The Rev. Scott Bradley, who officiated at James Sauter's wedding and served as his youth minister, said Sauter both inspired him as a pastor and caused him to lose his hair and go gray. He said that after a prior accident that occurred while Sauter was on duty, Sauter said he was worried he would die without having done enough for other people.
"I am a living testimony that James Sauter's life meant something," Bradley said. "That he lived with purpose and made a difference in the lives of others."