The widow of an Illinois state trooper killed in March after a Wisconsin truck driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel of his semi was awarded a $10.9 million settlement with the driver and the companies he worked for that day, lawyers said Wednesday.
Elizabeth Sauter, widow of Trooper James Sauter, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Andrew Bokelman, United Van Lines LLC, Unigroup Inc., and Suddath Relocation Systems of Minnesota and Milwaukee doing business as Barrett Moving & Storage in late 2013.
Bokelman, 26, already has been criminally charged in Cook County for violating federal safety laws meant to keep tired truck drivers off the road, according to the suit. Prosecutors said he worked a 12-hour shift March 28 before he dozed off behind the wheel on the Tri-State Tollway near Glenview about 11 p.m., striking and killing the 28-year-old trooper from Vernon Hills.
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.
Cook County Circuit Judge Kathy M. Flanagan entered an order approving the settlement Wednesday after the parties reached their agreement several months ago in pre-suit mediation.
Elizabeth Sauter’s attorneys, Tim Ashe and Kristina Green of Kralovec, Jambois & Schwartz, said in a statement that they were pleased with the amount she was awarded, adding that “she suffered an indescribable loss that few can understand.”
“While this settlement will not bring James Sauter back. . . the settlement will at least give his widow and his family a means to go on as they grieve,” her attorneys added.
Sauter was a decorated trooper who was just starting his life with his wife. The couple had been married less than three years.
Bokelman’s attorney has in the past declined to comment on the lawsuit, but United Van Lines and Unigroup said in a statement in January, after the lawsuit was filed: “We continue to be deeply saddened by the loss of Trooper Sauter.”
The lawsuit alleged Sauter was parked on the left-hand shoulder of southbound Interstate 294 near mile marker 48.5. 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 was engulfed in flames, according to the lawsuit, and the Cook County medical examiner determined Sauter died of thermal injuries from the fire that ensued.
Contributing: Jon Seidel