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Chicago Ridge torch run honors fallen trooper

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Updated: July 15, 2013 6:51PM



Eileen Sauter and her husband, Don, stood in silence, flanked by family members, as their late son was remembered and honored Wednesday morning.

Illinois State Police Trooper James Sauter died in March after his police cruiser was struck by a truck on the left shoulder of Interstate 294 in Northfield Township. On Wednesday, other troopers, police and Chicago Ridge officials talked highly of Sauter.

“The gentleman was a true hometown hero for all of us in Chicago Ridge, and his loss was felt not just by his family but by the entire community. Although he will be missed, he will be long remembered,” Mayor Chuck Tokar said in a brief ceremony at the gazebo in front of the village hall.

For the 13th straight year, Chicago Ridge was participating in the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Illinois. But there’s a twist — the portion of the torch run from Chicago Ridge to Palos Heights will forever be named in honor of Sauter, Tokar said.

The color guard from the Richards High School Navy Junior ROTC presented Eileen Sauter with a crisply folded American flag. Sauter was a Richards grad and played football and baseball for the school.

Eileen and her family planned to walk in the event that raises money for Special Olympics Illinois. Prior to the ceremony, Don Sauter paused to reflect.

“This is very nice, very nice. A good gesture,” he said. “This is a nice tribute.”

Trooper Ray Kurut, who works in state police District 15, was impressed by the turnout at 7 a.m. He got up at 4:30 a.m. to be there on time.

“It’s a great thing. I’m glad to be out here with the family and everyone else. I knew (James) Sauter. He was a great guy, great guy,” Kurut said.

A state trooper for five years, Kurut said it’s always dangerous when troopers are on duty on the side of a highway.

A 15-minute ceremony before the torch run focused on Sauter and resulted in the biggest turnout ever for the run, organizer Deb Pyznarski said.

“People raise funds for the Special Olympics. They pledge, make donations,” she said. “This year, we asked people to make their donations in memory of our fallen trooper. It really is a community event.”

The Seweryn family, who belong to Our Lady of the Ridge Parish — mother Laura, 51, and daughters Stephanie, 24, Rebecca, 20, Olivia, 15, and Jillian, 12 — are examples of that.

They do not know the Sauter family but felt it was important to show their respect, Laura Seweryn said. So Stephanie drove home last night from Chicago’s North Side and Laura got all the girls up early so they could sing the national anthem together when the colors were presented.

Chicago Ridge Police Chief Rob Pyznarski, Deb’s husband, said his officers run every year and did so this year in Sauter’s memory.

“Jim grew up in Chicago Ridge and attended local schools. He truly is a hometown hero,” the chief said.

Chicago Ridge police chaplain, the Rev. George Omwando, said a prayer for first responders and the Sauter family. Moments later, clad in a bright red jogging suit with white stripes, he joined about 25 people who jogged or walked to Illinois 83 and Harlem Avenue, where the torch was handed off to Palos Heights police.

Eventually, the torch makes its way to Normal for the Special Olympics Summer Games on Friday through Sunday at Illinois State University and other sites.

Tokar said he’s aware of the importance of the Special Olympics, recalling his boyhood when his family was close to a family with a child who had Down syndrome.

“He’d get out there, so proud, in training for months before the event. He’d talk about it,” Tokar said. “He was so excited. It did so much for his self-esteem. He’d come home and show off his medals for months afterwards. It was tremendous. I’m proud to say he just celebrated his 50th birthday last year. It’s pretty cool.”



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