Bond was set at $125,000 for a Wisconsin truck driver charged in a fiery Tri-State accident last Spring that claimed the life of state trooper,James Sauter.
26-year-old Andrew Bokelman faces three felony counts of commercial driving violations, after investigators say he fell asleep behind the wheel of his semi-truck, crushing the squad car of Trooper Sauter who died on the scene. But in a controversial decision, prosecutors decided not to press more serious reckless homicide charges.
For some of the off-duty Troopers – close to 50 strong – crammed into the courtroom for Bokelman’s bond hearing, the lessor charges don’t seem adequate when you consider what happened the night of March 28th.
“It is a tragedy,” says Perez. “It’s a tragedy for the Sauter family and it’s a tragedy for the Bokelman family.”
Trooper James Sauter’s squad car was crushed by the collision on the Tri-State Tollway, near Willow Road, the evening of March 28th. Both vehicles erupted into flames, witnesses say. And investigators determined that Bokelman fell asleep behind the wheel of his semi , drifting off to the left shoulder, waking up after the terrible impact.
In the courtroom today, prosecutors described Bokelman’s efforts after the crash to rescue the trapped Sauter, the Wisconsin trucker using a pocket knife to cut off the seat belt in a futile attempt to wrest Sauter free. But a fireball knocked Bokelman back and the 28-year-old state trooper died from his injuries.
Blood tests at the hospital revealed no trace of alcohol or drugs in Sauter’s body. And his lawyer says from the beginning, Bokelman cooperated fully with investigators.
“Both sides, from the prosecutors to defense attorneys and all the police personnel and Andrew Bokelman himself have nothing but sympathy for Trooper Sauter and his family,” says defense attorney David Studenroth.
At the funeral last Spring, hundreds of troopers paid homage to Sauter, a highly decorated patrolman and pilot for the department’s aviation division. Eight months after his death, the loss is still felt deeply – as evidenced by the 50-plus troopers at the courthouse driving in from across the state to honor their fallen comrade.
“Today was about Jim Sauter,” says Major Perez. We’re here to support him and his family. The fact that there are so many off duty police here on their off day tells you about the kind of man Jim was.”