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Truck drivers traveling along Illinois expressways where shootings spiked 110% last year are advised to report suspicious activity and use a new police website map of real-time gunfire reports.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said violent crime during the pandemic has increased along the state’s expressways, including Chicago.
“Drivers have had bullets come through their windshields maiming or killing someone who is just trying to get from Point A to Point B. It can be anyone,” Pritzker said, during a Feb. 7 press conference with state police on expressway shootings and arrests. He said these roadway crimes often spill over from criminal activity or gang disputes starting in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Violence in 2021
Reported Expressway shootings: 310 (147 in 2020, 51 in 2019)
County with highest percentage of shootings: Cook (88%)
Source: Illinois State Police
To help prevent crime, the Illinois State Police launched an interactive website tool — the Statewide Expressway Shooting (SES) dashboard — to view reported shootings by year, weekday, death or injuries, locations and maps. It can be found on the Illinois State Police home page by clicking a “Violence Reduction” icon.
“Knowing when and where these violent crimes are being committed, provides us with another tool in combating these violent and senseless crimes,” said Brendan F. Kelly, state police director.
Last year’s weekdays with the highest reported shootings were Fridays (20%). Saturdays and Sundays both had 16%. Mondays and Tuesday were the least (9% each).
In 2021, the most reported shootings (80) occurred on the I-94 Dan Ryan Expressway, which runs through Chicago’s center. Others included:
• I-290 Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway (51) — westward from the Chicago Loop.
• I-94 Bishop Ford Memorial Expressway (44) — southside of Chicago.
• I-57 (39) — from southern Illinois to Chicago.
• I-55 Stevenson Expressway (29) — between Chicago and St. Louis.
• I-90 Kennedy Expressway (13) — between the West Loop and O’Hare International Airport.
“Driving a truck in Chicago is hard enough, but driving a truck and having to dodge bullets is even harder,” said Matt Hart, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association.
Noting there is no evidence to show truckers are being targeted, he said members are concerned about expressway shootings, which stem mostly from road rage and being caught in gang-related crossfire.
Hart described hearing from a trucker last summer caught in traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway during the middle of the day. A car veered over to squeeze in front as a passenger leaned out the window, firing directly into his cab. The driver was shaken and unharmed since the bullets hit an empty seat next to him.
As of Feb. 11, there were 18 expressway shootings this year, which Hart said makes it more difficult to attract truck drivers to the industry.
He favors the new SES dashboard to assist truckers and police.
“Anything that will help get criminals off the road is a good thing,” he said.
However, Hart said that even though truck drivers can see on the dashboard that the Dan Ryan Expressway has a high number of shootings, “it’s pretty hard to drive around” without going a great distance out of the way.
He advised truck drivers to be aware of their surroundings. If their trucks have cameras turned outward and capture something, they should turn the video over to law enforcement, he noted
“A witness in a nearby vehicle may be driving through Chicago and live thousands of miles away and not realize what occurred next to them or what they observed in relation to the crime,” said Kelly, who described the complexity investigating expressway shootings.
“Most crime scenes are not moving 70, 80 or 90 miles per hour with hundreds of vehicles traveling through them,” he said. “Unlike the typical secured crime scene, debris fields may stretch for several hundred yards or even a mile. Victims are often uncertain where the incident occurred, and witnesses are a challenge to locate.”
This point was illustrated by a 10-year Chicago truck stop manager, who wished to remain anonymous. He recounted hearing a truck driver come in three months ago and describe nearly being killed by a bullet ricocheting off an expressway pavement upward into the cab’s passenger side. Had it been occupied, that person would have been shot. The driver, who was very upset, had no idea where the gunfire came from, the manager said.
“Nine years ago, you heard about an expressway shooting maybe once a year,” he said. “Now it’s all the time.”
Police are installing more expressway cameras and new automated license plate readers to help solve crimes. Pritzker said 99 have been installed on Dan Ryan Expressway, with more coming.
“Anyone even thinking of committing violent crimes on our expressways ought to be on notice that they are more likely today than ever before to get caught,” he said. “We will hold nothing back to keep the public safe.”