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Thousands pay respects to fallen state trooper

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Updated: May 3, 2013 6:14AM



Illinois State Trooper Ray Kurut remembered his friend and fellow state trooper James Sauter on Monday as a “road dog,” who loved making a difference in the lives of others,

“Jim is one of those people that would have loved to have a canine, a motorcycle and an airplane all at once to go out and serve from land and sea,” said Kurut, who attended police academy with Sauter in 2008. “This uniform is what he loved. He loved wearing the uniform.”

Kurut was one of thousands of mourners who paid their respects Monday to Sauter. He died Thursday after a semi truck hit his police cruiser on the Tri-State Tollway in Northbrook. The visitation for Sauter, a 28-year-old Chicago Ridge native who lived in Vernon Hills, was held at Moraine Valley Baptist Church in Palos Heights.

“He was genuinely one of the kindest, warmest people you will ever meet,” Kurut said. “He did this job full of heart and he served Illinois and the people of Illinois with his whole heart and soul.”

Sauter, who is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and other family, had been a trooper for nearly five years.

The line for his visitation snaked out the back door of the church. Cars, many of them police squad cars, packed the church parking lot and nearby lots as well. Illinois State Police Trooper Clare Pfotenhauer said she expected several thousand people to visit to pay their respects to the fallen police officer.

Highland Park resident Caryn Tatelli said she met Sauter through his wife, who babysat her kids. She remembered once going to a waterpark in Wisconsin Dells, Wi., with her husband, their kids, Sauter and his wife, with whom he was then engaged.

“My kids felt incredibly safe with James,” Tatelli said. “When it was time to go down whatever water slide it was, they all wanted to go down with James.”

Dan Drzydga, who married Sauter’s cousin, said he remembered that Sauter loved fishing with his brother, having his grandfather come to his baseball games, and flying gas-powered, remote controlled airplanes with his father at the forest preserve at 107th Street and LaGrange Avenue.

“(Sauter) would go to work everyday in Christ to help everyone around him become a better person,” Drzydga. “Now he’s not with us. He’s fighting the fight with Him.”

Drzydga said he hadn’t heard why the semi-truck hit Sauter’s squad car.

“Nobody really knows what happened but we’re taught to forgive,” Drzydga said. “That’s what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians.”

Illinois State Police Trooper Salma Cruise said she worked with Sauter for about two years, and said she couldn’t speak for days after hearing the tragic news. Sauter had a “niche” for working on drug and gun cases, she said.

“You would never see him just sitting down,” said Cruise, who often worked as backup for Sauter and vice-versa. “He was out there looking and trying to be the best trooper he could be.”

A funeral service for Sauter is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church, 6300 W. 127th St., Palos Heights. A private interment is to follow.



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