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Autopsy: DCFS worker’s death a homicide

Complications from head injuries caused Knight’s death, medical examiner rules

Pamela Sue Knight
Pamela Sue Knight

CHICAGO – The DCFS worker gravely injured in a beating in September died Thursday of “complications of blunt force head injuries due to assault,” which makes her death a homicide, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said Friday.

Pamela Knight, 59, was pronounced dead around 8:15 a.m. at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where she was admitted Feb. 4 for emergency surgery, her family said in a post on CaringBridge.org. The type of surgery was not specified.

At the time of her death, “she could move her left finger half an inch and her neck to the right a few inches. She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t walk, she couldn’t eat or swallow,” her daughter, Jennifer Hollenbeck, said in Facebook postings Friday afternoon.

In the 4 and a half months since the attack, Knight underwent five “major surgical procedures.” She spent the first 2 months in a coma, and in the last few weeks was working with therapists at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, learning to communicate using eye movements and undergoing physical therapy to help her regain movement in her arms and legs.

In anticipation of a lifelong struggle with the disabilities the attack had caused, her husband, Don Knight, had spent in excess of $70,000 modifying their Dixon home.

Knight, a veteran Department of Children and Family Services worker, was taking a 2-year-old into protective custody when investigators say she was knocked to the ground and kicked in the head by Andrew Sucher, 25, of Rock Falls.

Sucher was indicted Dec. 7 on charges of attempted first-degree murder, which carries at least 6 to 30 years in prison, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, and aggravated battery of a state employee, each of which carries 2 to 5 years in prison. He is being held at Stephenson County Jail on $275,000 bond.

Carroll County State’s Attorney Scott Brinkmeier could not be reached Friday for comment on whether or when those charges would be increased; the county closed its offices because of the weather.

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Sucher is accused of fracturing Knights’ skull, causing permanent brain damage that also led to her extensive physical disabilities.

Knight had gone to Sucher’s home first, with a police escort, to take the child into custody, and when no one was there, she went to his parents’ home in Milledgeville, which is in another police jurisdiction. She did not ask for assistance from village police.

She was attacked shortly after she got out of her car around 5:45 p.m. Sucher’s mother called 911 and another relative threw himself over Knight to protect her.

Preston Schilling Funeral Home in Dixon handled arrangements.

A mental evaluation of Sucher was ordered Jan. 9; a status hearing on the report, which was to take about a month to complete, is set for Feb. 23.

The report, being done by Dr. Joel Eckert of Peoria, will help determine, among other things, whether Sucher is fit to stand trial, is able to aid in his own defense, and whether he was sane at the time of the attack of which he is accused.

Sucher also is charged with aggravated battery of a peace officer, which carries 3 to 7 years.

Officials say he was being moved to another cell in the Carroll County Jail around 3:40 p.m. Dec. 19 when he became “verbally combative” and punched Chief Deputy Craig Dimmick in the face. He subsequently was transferred to Stephenson County.

The status of that case also will be heard Feb. 23.

​Sucher also has pleaded not guilty in Whiteside County to aggravated battery of a child, which carries 2 to 5 years, and battery, domestic battery, and interfering with the reporting of a domestic battery, all misdemeanors.

He is accused of dragging a 6-year-old by the foot and striking him in the face with a squirt gun, and of throwing a woman against a wall and taking her phone in a July 29 incident.

He was out on bond in that case when Knight was attacked. It’s on hold while the Carroll County case proceeds.

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