A truck driver charged in a crash that killed an Illinois State Police trooper last month told authorities that he fell asleep at the wheel earlier that day and again just before the collision, an investigator testified in court April 18.
An Illinois State Police sergeant testified that Craig Dittmar, 55, told investigators that he started driving at 5:30 a.m. that day and that he had also pulled off the road to take a nap at some point before the crash that killed Trooper Brooke Jones-Story.
Dittmar is charged with reckless homicide and fatigued driving in connection with the crash. He has pleaded not guilty.
“He doesn’t remember seeing any police vehicles or any other vehicles prior to the crash,” Illinois State Police Sgt. Charles Davidson testified at a preliminary hearing in Stephenson County Circuit Court. “He says he wakes up, he doesn’t know what happened.”
Jones-Story, 34, was killed March 28 as she conducted a traffic stop on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 20 near Illinois Route 75 outside of Rockford.
Dittmar was on his way home to Stockton from Joliet, the last leg of a trip during which he delivered ethanol products, his lawyer said.
About half a dozen state troopers dressed in uniform filed into the courtroom to watch the hearing. Dittmar – wearing blue jeans, a long-sleeve gray shirt and silver glasses – sat next to his attorney during the proceedings. He is free on bond while he awaits trial.
Dittmar’s attorney, Christopher DeRango, contests the chronology of events presented in court Thursday. He said that while Dittmar was tired enough to stop and nap, that was on an earlier leg of his route. DeRango also said the bouts of fatigue Dittmar suffered did not immediately precede the crash.
In an emailed statement, the attorney later said: “Mr. Dittmar was cooperative at every phase of the investigation, answering every question asked of him, and voluntarily submitting to every test or search requested. Craig was very much suffering from the shock and grief of what had happened just hours earlier when he answered those questions, and, as anyone would have done under the circumstances, lamenting the things he might have done differently to have saved the trooper’s life.”
DeRango also said he is exploring whether a medication his client started taking in February may have caused “unexpected side effect of which he had never been warned, but may in fact be known to the medical community.”
Jones-Story, a 12-year-department veteran, was inspecting a truck on the side of the road when another semitractor-trailer truck slammed into her, also striking her squad car and the truck she initially pulled over, according to state police.
She is one of three troopers killed in crashes while on duty this year. Trooper Gerald Ellis, 36, was killed while traveling home in his squad car on Interstate 94 in Lake County when a wrong-way driver struck him head-on. In January. Trooper Chris Lambert, 34, was killed when a vehicle struck him as he directed traffic around a crash on Interstate 294 near Northbrook.
Dittmar’s next hearing is scheduled for July 11.