DIXON – Her exceptional devotion to, and love for, children.
That’s what her family and co-workers want the world to remember about DCFS worker Pam Knight, now recovering in a Chicago rehab facility after being beaten so badly that she likely never will be able to return to the job she loved.
Or, in fact, to any semblance of her former life.
On the afternoon of Sept. 29, Knight, 59, who was based in Sterling, was beaten within an inch of her life while taking a 2-year-old boy into protective custody in Milledgeville.
She remains in a coma 7 weeks later, and, “will require medical assistance and equipment to support her for the remainder of her life,” her husband, Don Knight of Dixon, said Monday, after a court hearing for the 25-year-old man accused of kicking her in the head, causing severe brain trauma.
“Her life she’s devoted to social services, and now she literally gave her life, because her life will never be the same,” said Kathy Lane, president of AFSCME Local 448 and a friend of Knight’s.
“As you know, this is just devastating for all of us. This has really shaken the whole department.”
To the surprise of her co-workers, and in honor of her sacrifice, Knight was given a public service award from AFSCME Council 31 at the union’s 20th biennial convention Oct. 19-21 in Springfield.
It reads: “In recognition of exemplary dedication to the mission of child protection and family support, for going above and beyond the call of duty, and for providing to all Illinois citizens a powerful reminder of the vital work that public service employees perform every day. With our deepest gratitude, admiration and hope for the future we hold you in our hearts.”
Lane has worked closely with Knight for many years.
“We want people to know how important she is,” Lane said. “She already had some pretty tough cases to deal with, but she never complained about anything. She was a good person, probably the most even-keeled person you’d ever meet – very laid back.”
Before coming to work for DCFS 11 years ago, Knight was a welfare specialist for Lutheran Social Services for about 2 decades, after studying family social services at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Ironically, after years of working protective services for the Department of Children and Family Services, Knight had taken on new duties that were “much, much safer,” inspecting daycares, Lane said.
About a year ago, “she came back into child protective services because we were short workers and she wanted to help. ... She loved doing child protection – that’s what just kills you,” Lane said.
Knight was transferred this week to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, one of the foremost rehabilitation hospitals in the country, and her husband, owner of Don Knight’s Electric in Dixon, is in the process of remodeling their home, to make accommodations for her eventual release from in-patient treatment.
A fund has been established at Sterling Federal Bank to help the family pay for medical and other expenses associated with her care.
“We need to make sure that she gets everything that she needs,” Lane said.
Andrew Sucher, 25, of Rock Falls, is in Carroll County Jail on $200,000 bond. He pleaded not guilty Oct. 6 to aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, and aggravated battery of a state employee, each of which carries 2 to 5 years in prison.
He has a pretrial hearing Dec. 18; for now, his trial is set for the week of Jan. 30.
Sucher had been out of jail 3 months, after posting $1,500 of his $15,000 bond in a domestic abuse case in Whiteside County, when Knight was attacked.
He is charged in Whiteside with aggravated battery of a 6-year-old, which carries 2 to 5 years in prison, and battery, domestic battery, and interfering with the reporting of a domestic battery, all misdemeanors, stemming from an incident on July 29.
He is accused of dragging the 6-year-old by the foot and striking him in the face with a squirt gun, and of grabbing a woman by the neck, throwing her against a wall, pushing her down several times and taking her phone away.
Sucher told police at the time that he had lost his job 2 days earlier, and would be living in Sterling when he was out of jail.
The charges in that case were the reason Knight was taking the 2-year-old into protective custody.
Sucher pleaded not guilty Aug. 14 and a jury trial is set for Nov. 14, but it’s likely the Carroll County case will be processed first.
In fact, Whiteside County State’s Attorney Terry Costello said this week that he is seeking to have Sucher’s bond increased, to ensure he will be brought immediately to Whiteside County Jail for adjudication once his Carroll County case has resolved.
In October 2011, Sucher, a Milledgeville High School graduate, was sentenced to 12 months court supervision and anger management treatment for a misdemeanor battery conviction in Carroll County.