Repeat DUI offenders, such as the one who killed a Wonder Lake teen 12 years ago, will have a harder time getting their driver’s licenses back under a bill Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Thursday.
House Bill 3533, which cleared the General Assembly without a single opposing vote, increases to five years the amount of time 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 full driving privileges restored. Before the new law, repeat DUI offenders could get a device removed after only 12 consecutive months of driving without the device detecting alcohol.
The bill was inspired by the November 2014 drunken driving arrest of James Stitt, who, in 2003, struck and killed 17-year-old Caitlin Weese just weeks before her 18th birthday and her graduation from high school. Stitt, who was driving on a suspended license and had two previous convictions when he killed Weese, successfully got his driver’s license back in 2013.
Rauner signed the bill in Chicago, joined by Weese’s sisters and their children, and state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, who filed the legislation.
Having the children of Weese’s sisters present made the signing ceremony an emotional one, Wheeler said, because it made her think of what Weese would be doing with her life had she not died. She would have turned 30 on June 15.
“You fast-forward 12 years, and you see the children from the other two daughters and you think, ‘What if?’” said Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake.
The family, most notably Weese’s stepfather Joel Mains, pushed for a change to the law after Palatine police informed them last year of Stitt’s most recent DUI arrest. The two former political adversaries – Mains unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic challenger to Wheeler – found a common cause to fix a problem.
Mains said the new law gives him and his family a “feeling of relief” that could spare other families the pain they’ve endured. Mains was on duty Thursday as a firefighter-paramedic with the Downers Grove Fire Department and could not attend the ceremony.
“Our ultimate goal was to stop this from happening to another family, and with the law that went into effect today, there’s a better chance that it won’t happen to another family,” Mains said.
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 use their vehicles only for work, grocery shopping, school or emergencies.
Stitt, 35, pleaded guilty in May 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 with good behavior, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.
Stitt was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for Weese’s death, and was released in 2009. Weese was the first DUI victim in Illinois honored with a memorial sign from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The family, after Weese’s death, became actively involved in groups that fight drunken driving, and Mains is a member of the board of Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists. Weese’s biological mother, Diane, died in 2006.