On the evening of January 7, 1997 while assigned to the 008th District, Officer Van Vegten and his partner responded to a “shots fired” call at 43rd and Latrobe Avenue near the LeClaire Courts public housing development. En route to the scene, the officers spotted a vehicle containing four known gang members who immediately fled northbound on Cicero Avenue at a high rate of speed. Before Officer Van Vegten and his partner could even radio in the pursuit, another vehicle veered into their lane of traffic and they were forced to take evasive action. The officers’ police vehicle struck the center-lane curb and crashed into a concrete planter. They were pulled from the wreckage of their burning squad car by passing motorists just seconds before the entire vehicle was engulfed in flames.
Officer Van Vegten was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition. He suffered a collapsed lung, a shattered right femur and a broken rib which had pierced his aorta. The rapid blood loss from that injury left him paralyzed from the chest down and legally blind. After emerging from a six week coma, the officer underwent several surgeries at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for therapy. In the following years, Officer Van Vegten suffered through numerous surgeries and continuously battled infections and wounds that required months or years to heal.
Officer VanVegten passed away on the morning of November 2nd.