The Illinois state trooper fatally wounded on a north suburban highway Saturday afternoon died doing what he always wanted to do.
And that fact lingered with a friend of Trooper Christopher Lambert’s as he thought about the man suddenly ripped away from a grieving wife and a daughter who just celebrated her first birthday last month — and who is his “spitting image.”
“He was the hero,” Raymon Coughenour said. “Always wanted to be a hero.”
Lambert, 34, died after he was injured in an accident on I-294 near Willow Road, not far from the scene of a similar accident that killed a state trooper six years earlier.
A three-car crash caught Lambert’s attention Saturday, and he stopped in the northbound lanes, officials said. State police said Lambert positioned his car in the left hand lanes to protect the people involved.
He was struck by a passing vehicle at 4:43 p.m.
Though he was given CPR by an off-duty nurse at the scene and was taken to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, Lambert died at 7:24 p.m. The accident remains under investigation, according to the state police.
An autopsy conducted Sunday morning found Lambert died from multiple blunt force injuries related to the crash, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. His death was ruled an accident.
The driver who hit Lambert waited at the scene for investigators, according to Illinois State Police Director Leo P. Schmitz, who said the trooper’s death appeared to be accidental.
Funeral services are pending.
Coughenour said he’s known Lambert’s wife since high school and met Lambert more than a decade ago. They got to know each other through their shared love of country music, first meeting at a Brad Paisley concert in Milwaukee.
Since then, Coughenour and his wife have gotten to know Lambert even better. The couples would bowl and get together for barbecues. And he said it was clear that Lambert — who died after five years as a state trooper — would make the transition to law enforcement.
Lambert had previously served in the U.S. Army. And whenever something went wrong, Coughenour said, Lambert stepped up to set it right.
“It was in his blood,” Coughenour said.
The crash that took Lambert’s life occurred not far from the site of the March 2013 crash that killed Trooper James Sauter.
Sauter had been parked on the left shoulder of southbound I-294 near mile 48.5 on March 28, 2013, when a semitrailer hit his cruiser in a fiery crash.
Before he learned of Saturday’s fatal wreck, Coughenour said he had been sending text messages to Lambert. He had been trying to joke with him — as he often did — about the lack of Spotted Cow beer at his house.
That’s when he said Lambert’s wife texted back to tell him Lambert had been in an accident. Then she stopped answering his texts.
Coughenour said Sunday he never thought about death before. But he said his friend “did what he wanted to do — saving people.”
“That would be my choice,” he said.
As for Lambert’s wife, Coughenour said he finally heard back from her.
“She said that she’s heartbroken,” he said. “And she doesn’t know what to do.”
Contributing: Tom Schuba