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Trooper Kyle Deatherage, who recently transferred to the Illinois State Police motorcycle unit to spend more time with his young family, was struck and killed by a truck Monday morning during a traffic stop along Interstate 55 near Litchfield.

Deatherage, 32, of Highland, entered law enforcement as a Madison County sheriff’s deputy in 2004 and moved to the state police in May 2009.

Nelda Christin, an aunt, said the family was devastated by the loss. Deatherage was married to Christin’s niece, Sarah, and they have two children, Kaylee, 4, and Camden, 10 months old.

“He was a wonderful person,” Christin said. She said he switched to motorcycle duty because it allowed him to move from the night shifts to days, and see more of his growing family.

Hiram Grau, director of the state police, issued a statement saying, “Our hearts are heavy with grief, but they are also strengthened by Trooper Deatherage’s brave calling.”

“This is a tragic loss,” said Madison County Sheriff Robert Hertz. “He was a very, very good police officer who was going places. He was very dedicated. I feel so sorry for his family.”

In addition to his wife and their small children, Deatherage is survived by his parents, Barry and April Deatherage of Highland, two brothers and a sister.

Deatherage had been one of 29 Illinois troopers sent to New Jersey this month to help with cleanup efforts after Hurricane Sandy.

Officials said he stopped a vehicle just after 9 a.m. along the northbound lanes, near mile marker 62, and was struck by a passing tractor-trailer truck. Police did not provide other details, including whether charges were expected against the truck driver or whether anyone else was hurt. The scene is about 62 miles northeast of St. Louis.

Deatherage had parked his motorcycle along the highway and was talking to the driver of the vehicle he stopped when he was killed, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, an online tribute to fallen police.

The highway was closed for hours between Exits 60 and 63, while accident reconstruction officers investigated the scene.

It is the same area of Interstate 55 where 11 students from the Highland School District were injured when a school bus returning from a field trip hit the back of a stopped truck on May 14, and where a Megabus blew a tire and hit a bridge abutment Aug. 2, killing one passenger and injuring about four dozen people.

Deatherage is the 64th Illinois trooper to die in the line of duty, according to the state police website. He was the first since Trooper Brian McMillen, 24, was killed Oct. 28, 2007. McMillen was responding to a disturbance call when his patrol car collided with two drunken drivers near Illiopolis, Ill. Both those drivers went to prison.

Marlon A. Walker covers Illinois general news for and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @marlonawalker