Joel Mains got a call last November from the Palatine Police Department that would make any father’s blood boil.
The drunk driver who killed his stepdaughter a decade earlier in a head-on crash was picked up Nov. 15 – yet again – for driving under the influence.
Seventeen-year-old Caitlin Weese was driving back to her Wonder Lake home on May 22, 2003, when James Stitt, then 23, swerved into the oncoming lane on Route 72 near Gilberts and struck her head-on. Weese died two days later, just weeks before her 18th birthday and her graduation from Larkin High School in Elgin. She was to be the maid of honor in her sister’s wedding.
Stitt was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, was released in 2009 and got his driver’s license back in January 2013, according to records. He had been convicted of DUI twice before he killed Weese, and was driving with a suspended license that night.
Drunk-driving offenders who are eligible to regain driving privileges under Illinois law must have their cars equipped with an ignition interlock device, which will not start a car if the driver blows more than .025. But that device comes off with the end of a driver’s suspension, and even repeat offenders under state law can get it removed after 12 consecutive months of driving without the device ever detecting alcohol.
A law now sailing through the General Assembly will increase the time and the steps that repeat DUI offenders must take to get their driver’s licenses back. And it started when Mains and his family reached out to their state lawmakers – including the one Mains had unsuccessfully tried to unseat in the election weeks prior.
“With the initial aggravation, the kids and I talked about it, and we were all pretty upset and wanted to do something,” Mains said.
State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, wanted to do something as well when she received the email from Mains, who was her Democratic opponent for the 64th House District she has represented since 2012. They worked together to craft House Bill 3533, which is before the Illinois House for a vote.
“Something is severely wrong with the law when somebody who has multiple DUI convictions, and murders someone, is driving [without monitoring] when they have a problem with alcohol,” Wheeler said.
House Bill 3533 prevents a repeat DUI offender from applying to the secretary of state’s office for driver’s license reinstatement until the person has gone for five years on a restricted driving permit – which limits car usage to work, grocery shopping, school and emergencies – without incident. It also increases to five years the amount of time that a repeat DUI offender has to drive with an ignition interlock. Such devices are installed at the driver’s expense, come with monthly monitoring and rental fees, and are regularly checked by state authorities for compliance.
The bill passed the House Transportation: Vehicles and Safety Committee on a 9-0 vote March 18. Mains, a firefighter paramedic with Downers Grove, had a large contingent of his fellow firefighters sitting in the audience in a show of solidarity when he testified on its behalf. Besides being touching, Wheeler said, it made an impression – three of the committee’s members have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation.
When it passes the House, the bill will go to the Senate, where Mains’ state Senator, Republican Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, will carry it.
“This is a nonpartisan issue. Families of all makeups get affected by the thousands, and people of all types cause this,” Mains said. “We didn’t want this to happen to any other family.”
Weese was the first DUI victim in Illinois honored with a memorial sign from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Mains and his wife Diane became actively involved in the group Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, and Joel Mains now sits on its board. Diane, Weese’s biological mother, died in 2006.