CHAMPAIGN — A veteran University of Illinois police officer died early Monday of injuries he received as the victim of an apparent drunken-driving crash Sunday evening in Champaign.
Lt. Aaron Landers was off duty and on his motorcycle when he became a part of a chain-reaction crash shortly after 6 p.m. at the intersection of Church Street and Prospect Avenue that ultimately affected five drivers.
None of the others was seriously injured, Champaign police said.
Lt. Landers died at Carle Foundation Hospital at 3:11 a.m. Monday of multiple traumatic injuries. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said an autopsy would be conducted.
Champaign police said their preliminary investigation revealed that Logan Freed, 25, of Champaign was driving west on Church Street when she disobeyed a traffic light and hit a car that was northbound on Prospect.
That car was hit so hard that it got pushed into the southbound lane of Prospect, where Lt. Landers’ southbound motorcycle collided with it.
Police department spokesman Tom Yelich said Freed was taken to the county jail on preliminary charges of aggravated driving under the influence and failure to have valid insurance. Illinois State Police are assisting Champaign police with the investigation of the collision.
A husband and father of two, Lt. Landers was 50. He lived in St. Joseph.
Learning of his death, several area police officers lined up at Carle Foundation Hospital to accompany his body to the morgue in Urbana about 5:30 a.m.
“We draped his casket with a flag,” Northrup said. UI police "led us in a patrol vehicle and the other departments followed behind. They took the procession past the UI police department on the way to the morgue.”
There, the UI’s honor guard team assisted in taking Lt. Landers inside.
The son of an Effingham police officer, Lt. Landers served in the Air Force after high school, building bombs for aircraft. He served in the Mideast during Operation Desert Storm.
His military background made him a shoo-in for the UI’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. He served on that specialty team for many years, most recently as its commander.
He was also a bicycle patrol officer and outside of work was an avid bicyclist. He rode in the annual Cycle Across Illinois to benefit the nonprofit organization Concerns of Police Survivors and in July completed the 340-mile ride through the state.
Lt. Landers also served as a SWAT team member and a field training officer. He had been a UI police officer for 24 years.
Well-regarded by his peers and the department's administration, Lt. Landers has spent much of the past year developing protocol for its new Community Outreach and Support Team, dubbed COAST.
With a master’s degree in social work and being a crisis-intervention instructor, Lt. Landers was the person to whom UI police Chief Alice Cary turned to head up the new team, which combines the skills of trained patrol officers with clinical social workers to address all kinds of issues.
He was also suckered into working with a therapy dog when he was sent to observe training with the canine partners in Florida in December so he would have a better idea of how they work.
He ended up being teamed with departmental employee Winston, who lives with Lt. Landers’ family and their other two dogs when he’s not working.
He and Winston have provided hours of support to Champaign police employees mourning the fatal shooting of Officer Chris Oberheim in the line of duty in May and Champaign firefighters whose colleague Dominic Smith died in a traffic crash in December. The pair also recently attended the funeral of slain Chicago police Officer Ella French.
“I had no intention of ever being a dog handler,” he said earlier this year. “Sometimes, fate has a way of changing things.”
Lt. Landers’ death is the second major loss for the UI police team this year. In early February, Anthony “Tony” Carpenter, 59, of Rantoul died unexpectedly of natural causes after 18 years as a UI police officer.