Photo by Dermot Connolly
Chicago Ridge Sgt. Dave Mitchell carries the torch on Harlem Avenue in Palos Heights, completing the 2.8-mile journey from Chicago Ridge during the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics on June 13.
The local leg of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run in support of Special Olympics began bright and early on June 13 outside Chicago Ridge Village Hall, where dozens gathered at 7 a.m. for a ceremony before the 2.8 mile run/walk to Palos Heights.
For the past five years, this leg of the event, from the Chicago Ridge Village Hall at 10455 S. Ridgeland Ave. has been done in honor of Illinois State Trooper James Sauter, a Chicago Ridge native who was killed in the line of duty on March 29, 2013, when a truckdriver crashed into his police car on Interstate 294 in Northbrook.
In honor of the fifth anniversary, the U.S. flag outside Village Hall at 10455 S. Ridgeland Ave., was solemnly lowered and folded, and presented to Sauter’s parents, Donald and Eileen, by members of Boy Scout Troop 665.
“We thank you for your sacrifice,” said Trustee Deb Pyznarski, one of the organizers of the event.
Then, following a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, the group set out for Palos Heights, with Deputy Chief Jim Jarolimek carrying the torch at first. He then passed it to Sgt. Dave Mitchell, who carried it into Palos Heights, where he handed it off to Officer Brent Dreger at Route 83 and Harlem Avenue.
From there, a contingent of Palos Heights officers, family members and residents picked up the torch and ran for 14 miles to LaGrange Road and Interstate 80 in Mokena. The final destination for the torch was Normal, where the Illinois Special Olympics were to start on Friday.
Approximately 3,000 officers were expected to carry the Flame of Hope nearly 1,500 miles on 23 legs around the state between June 10 and 15.
Because of Sauter’s anniversary, there was a larger than usual contingent of participants from the Illinois State Police, who either ran themselves or accompanied the runners in police vehicles and motorcycles to provide traffic control.
“We’re here to support the Sauter family,” said Capt. Bob Meeter, of Illinois Police District 15. “I want to make sure his family knows he will never be forgotten.”
A handful of runners from the Worth Police Department also joined the Chicago Ridge police, residents and officials who ran or walked to Palos Heights. Chicago Ridge Village Clerk Barb Harrison, an avid runner, was among those who completed the trek to Harlem Avenue and Route 83, while other officials, including Mayor Chuck Tokar, and trustees Jack Lind, Ed Kowalski and Bill McFarland ran or walked at least part of the distance along Ridgeland Avenue to 111th Street, and then to Harlem Avenue over the Cal-Sag Channel bridge into Palos Heights.
“I’m walking. I haven’t run since third grade,” said Tokar, who donned shorts and gym shoes for the occasion.
“Special Olympics is more than a worthy cause, and this is its 50th anniversary” said Tokar. “Everyone knows someone (who benefits from Special Olympics).”
He also said the amount of people who also come out to support the police is important too, “when it seems like the blue family is under attack.”
“I’ll admit, I walked up the bridge. The humidity was very bad,” said Harrison.
At the meeting point, the Chicago Ridge contingent were greeted by Palos Heights police officials, including Chief George L. “Larry” Yot, Deputy Chief Bill Czajkowski and Officer Kevin Apostal, one of the main organizers.
Chicago Ridge Police Chief Rob Pyznarski, who led the group in his police vehicle, brought a cooler full of water bottles for everyone.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run has raised more than $47 million over 32 years while increasing awareness of Special Olympics athletes and their accomplishments.
The Chicago Ridge police chief said the department raised $5,400 for Special Olympics this year, the first time the department participated in the Cop on Top event with Dunkin’ Donuts.
Czajkowski said $19,000 was raised in Palos Heights last year, and Apostal said about the same was raised this year, through the Cop on Top program as well as the torch run.
“That is a lot for a relatively small community. Our goal is to get our name on the commemorative shirts as one of the top donors in the state. But it is hard to compete with Chicago,” said Apostal.
He was among those who made it all the way to Mokena, carrying the American flag for much of the trip.
“This is really a great event. And it never seems to rain when we are doing it,” said Apostal.