Crime & Courts

Tougher DUI law inspired by killer of Wonder Lake teen headed to governor

A law that makes it tougher for repeat DUI offenders to get their licenses reinstated – inspired by the recent arrest of one who killed a Wonder Lake teenager in 2003 – is on its way to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.

House Bill 3533, which passed the Illinois Senate on Tuesday, increases to five years the amount of time that a repeat DUI offender has to be on a restricted driving permit – and drive with a breath ignition interlock – before he or she can apply to the secretary of state’s office to get a full license reinstated. Repeat offenders under current law can get a device removed after only 12 consecutive months of driving without the device detecting alcohol. The bill passed the House and Senate without a single opposing vote.

James Stitt in May 2003 struck and killed 17-year-old Caitlin Weese, just weeks before her 18th birthday and her graduation from Larkin High School in Elgin. Stepfather Joel Mains and his family began pressing for a change to the law after learning last November that Stitt was arrested in Palatine for driving under the influence. Stitt was driving on a suspended license and had two prior convictions at the time he killed Weese.

“Our family put a lot of effort into moving this bill forward, and to see it not only pass both chambers, but the committees in both chambers, unanimously, is a pretty good feeling,” Mains said Wednesday morning. “We’re trying to stop this from happening to another family, and by extending the time from one year to five using an [ignition device], hopefully this will do that.”

Mains reached out to state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, whom he had run against weeks earlier in the 2014 election as her Democratic opponent. But Wheeler immediately saw the need for change and worked with Mains to craft the bill, and subsequently carried it through the House. Mains’ state Senator, Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, carried the bill in the Senate.

“Joel Mains and his family initiated this, and kept everyone motivated and kept the ball rolling,” Wheeler said.

Stitt was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for Weese's death, was released in 2009 and got his driver’s license back in January 2013, according to records.

Ignition interlocks will not allow a car to start if the driver blows higher than .025, and they require random checks throughout a trip. They are installed in vehicles at the driver’s expense, come with monthly monitoring and rental fees, and are checked monthly by police for compliance. Drivers with restricted driving permits can only use their vehicles for work, grocery shopping, school or emergencies.

Stitt, now 35, pleaded guilty earlier this month to aggravated DUI in exchange for a two-year sentence. He is being held at the Vandalia Correctional Center, and will be eligible for parole in May 2016 with good behavior, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.

Weese was the first DUI victim in Illinois honored with a memorial sign from the Illinois Department of Transportation. She would have turned 30 on June 15.

Mains and his wife Diane became actively involved in the group Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, and Mains now sits on its board. Diane, Weese’s biological mother, died in 2006.

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