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A memorial and a message

GILBERTS – The family of a 17-year-old girl killed as a result of a crash with a drunken driver hopes that a simple blue sign – and others like it – will help prevent future fatal DUI crashes.

Caitlin Weese was driving home to Wonder Lake on May 22, 2003, when she was struck head-on by a drunken driver on Route 72 west of Gilberts. She died two days later at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

On Wednesday, Weese’s stepfather, Joel Mains, led a news conference in conjunction with Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists to unveil the sign, which was made possible under a new Illinois law.

“I had a hard time coming up with the words to describe how I feel about today,” Mains said, the pain from the crash still evident in his speech.

“It’s a comfort to know that Caitlin’s memory can live on through these signs.”

The sign is the first requested under “Tina’s Law,” named for Tina Ball, a mother of seven and a road construction worker killed by a drunken driver while working on I-57 in September 2003.

The law, which went into effect in January, enables signs to be placed along state highway DUI-related crash sites to honor those killed.

The blue sign erected Wednesday in memory of Weese delivered a simple message, “Please Don’t Drink and Drive.” A panel below states, “In Memory of Caitlin Weese, May 22, 2003.”

The sign will replace a makeshift memorial of crosses and flowers at the site of the 2003 crash.

“I think people see the crosses and the flowers and they know something happened, but they don’t know what it was. When they see the sign by the road, that tells them it was a drunk driver; it’s going to be a reminder of what happened,” said Cassandra Hardy, Caitlin’s older sister. “I think it helps bring awareness to other people that this happens too often.”

Family members of victims can request a memorial sign from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The signs will be erected for seven years, with an additional seven years possible if the family of the victim requests it, IDOT officials said.

To be eligible under the law, the crash must have occurred after Jan. 1, 1990. If the crash did not occur on a state roadway, the applicant must seek a sign from the local municipality or county government.

Representatives from IDOT and AAIM hailed the new law, which they noted passed the Illinois Legislature without a single vote in opposition.

More legislation could be on the way. A bill now in the Illinois Senate Rules Committee proposes adding a $50 fine to drivers who are convicted or receive court supervision for driving under the influence. The fine would pay for the $150 cost of the signs along with other drunken-driving prevention efforts, AAIM officials said.

Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown helped lobby for the bill as part of a task force formed in the wake of Tina Ball’s death.

“It is my sincere hope that these signs are highly effective in helping to reduce or eliminate drunk driving and that they bring solace to those who knew and loved the victims of the fatal DUI crashed,” Brown said Wednesday.

Mains said he had heard some comments from people that they didn’t want to see these types of dour reminders while driving. But the problem is the drinking and driving, not the signs, he said.

“I guarantee you I never wanted to see a sign on the road with my stepdaughter’s name on it,” he said.

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