(NEWS3) — According to Illinois State Police, it’s been the deadliest year for Illinois State Troopers killed in the line of duty.
Three of the four fatalities were a result of car crashes. The other was a shooting incident.
Illinois State Trooper Gerald “Jerry” Ellis was the third trooper to be killed by a driver breaking the law. It happened early morning on March 30 after a drunk driver was traveling in the wrong direction on I-94 in Lake County. Trooper Ellis was heading home but made a split-second decision to drive in the direction of the wrong-way driver to try to stop it from hitting another vehicle that reportedly had a family inside. Ellis struck the vehicle head-on and later died from his injuries.
Ellis was 36 years old, an 11-year veteran of the Illinois State Police with District 15 in Downers Grove, a father, brother, uncle and a husband.
Jerry’s father, Terry and his brother, Keith Ellis, sat down with NEWS3’s Devin Brooks in an exclusive interview to talk about the struggles they face and how they hope the loss of their loved one serves as a reminder to drive responsibly.
“It was a hard way to start a Saturday morning,” Terry Ellis said. “I think about him every day all the time. I used to count the days after his passing, but now I just count the months.”
The morning of March 30, three ISP Troopers arrived at Terry Ellis’ home, relaying a message that would change their lives forever.
“It just seemed like a nightmare just happened,” Keith said. “The next several days it just seemed like it’s unreal. You sit there and think, ‘how’s it possible?’”
His brother and father said the brave actions that Ellis took was the type of humble person he was.
“A kind soul,” Keith said. “Would do anything to help someone out.”
Not only did Ellis put his life on the line for others on the roads but he provided service to the country in the U.S. Army.
“My brother was a very patriotic man,” Keith said. “Always had a love for supporting his country.”
Terry and Keith said Jerry put his family first and cared dearly about his kids.
“He was a family man,” Keith said. “He loved his two little girls. You call him; he was out doing something with them.”
The Ellis’ said Jerry enjoyed his job and worked hard every day. He also had a great sense of humor with anyone that knew him.
“It would get a lot of people in trouble, but everybody would look at him and say ‘all it’s just Jerry, it’s no big deal,'” Keith said. “Someone had said to him, ‘Jerry, how did you get so dirty?’ And turned around to the guy and goes, ‘it’s just part of an honest days work.”
The family said they appreciate all of the love everyone has shared with them during this tough time. Since his death, Illinois State Police, elected officials and communities have come together to honor and remember Ellis with a park and highway dedication.
“The dedication memorial in Colchester probably hits closer to home,” Terry said. “It shows how grateful small town people are.”
The Gerald “Jerry” Ellis Memorial Park is located in Colchester where he grew up. The stretch of I-94 where the crash happened is now named the Trooper Gerald W. Ellis Memorial Highway.
Terry and Keith said the family is very grateful for all of the support shown at his funeral from people and first responders from all over.
“Just devastating,” Terry said. “Because most of them didn’t even know Jerry, but he was a fellow brother and they just come to pay their respects.”
The Ellis’ said the funeral was a powerful site to see. The family said they don’t wish this pain and nightmare on anyone, but they hope it serves a message.
“I don’t wish any parent to have to go through this,” Terry said. “It’s the hardest thing in the world for the rest of your life. When you see red lights and yellow lights, you need to slow down so them people can go home that night too.”
Keith hopes to work with local legislators to better equip law enforcement for dealing with drunk driving situations. He also wants to push for stiffer penalties for people who drink and drive.
Police said the 44-year-old driver, driving the wrong way on I-94, also died in the crash with a blood alcohol level of .169 more than twice the legal limit. Police said that man had no insurance or valid driver’s license since 1996 and had prior DUIs.