SYCAMORE – Monica Weeks’ hands shook uncontrollably as she clutched pages Tuesday morning, turned to Jacob K. Ensign and read her victim impact statement in a DeKalb County courtroom.
“You cannot begin to fathom my pain,” she said. “Why did this happen? How could Joann be killed on her way to work? Why did Jacob Ensign not do the right thing, the responsible thing? Pull over and take a nap. Drink a cup of coffee. Call a friend or a family member for a ride, or Uber for a lift – anything but driving while he knew he was too tired.”
A bench trial was held for Ensign, 24, of DeKalb, whom Weeks’ family members and friends maintain was undercharged with improper lane use for causing a head-on crash that killed 22-year-old Joann Weeks, a former Northern Illinois University student.
Court records show Ensign was driving home from work, north on Somonauk Road near Gurler Road, when he fell asleep behind the wheel of a 2015 Hyundai Sonata. His vehicle crossed the centerline and collided with Weeks’ 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier, which was traveling south at 6:19 a.m. March 7 on Somonauk Road.
“It’s almost an insult to us, what he was charged with,” Joann’s father, Randy Weeks, said after the sentencing. “I just don’t even understand how that’s justice. In the state of Iowa, if I’d done the same thing, I’d be sitting in jail somewhere.”
After about 90 minutes of statements that told Joann Weeks’ story and occasionally addressed Ensign specifically, he, too, gave a statement.
“I’d like to extend my condolences to all of you,” he said to the nearly 20 family members and friends of Joann Weeks who made the drive from Iowa for the trial and sentencing. “This is a terrible tragedy, and I’m saddened to be part of it.”
He pointed out that he has a son and a daughter, who had a doctor’s appointment the day before the tragedy.
“I carry the pain of this with me every day of my life, as well,” he said.
DeKalb County Judge Thomas Doherty ruled that Ensign receive the maximum penalty for the misdemeanor charge: a $1,000 fine, which will go to Tails Humane Society in DeKalb, where Joann Weeks volunteered while she lived in DeKalb. Doherty also ordered Ensign to attend the Accepting Responsibility is Mandatory program, a three-day program about decision-making before driving.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato also apologized to Weeks’ family that he could not bring any more serious charges. He said Ensign’s actions in the crash, which was investigated by his office and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, weren’t negligent enough to merit anything more serious.
“I think Mr. Amato brought the right charge,” Doherty said. “It appears it’s the most Mr. Amato can do under these circumstances. I’ve seen him in action in other courtrooms, in which he’s vigorously sought the highest max penalty.”
Joann Weeks graduated from Benedictine University and spent a semester pursuing her master’s at Northern Illinois University, through which she’d done an internship with the Kendall County probation division. She aspired to be an FBI agent, her mother said, but she shifted her focus to juvenile justice and took the spring semester off to work as a nanny while she transitioned back to Benedictine to get her psychology degree.
“Her plan was to pursue a career working with juveniles on probation, because she really wanted to help make a difference and get them back on the right track,” said Jessica Weeks, Joann’s older sister.
Ensign told police he was on his way home after working a 12-hour overnight shift and hadn’t gotten much sleep before, according to court records. He was taken to Kishwaukee Hospital, then OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, where he was treated for injuries and released.
Ensign pleaded not guilty, but since he and his lawyer, Ruben San Miguel, stipulated to the facts, Doherty found him guilty.
Amato said the county has about a half-dozen similar cases, in which fatal crashes have resulted in misdemeanor charges. He said Joann Weeks’ family and friends were granted a unique chance to read their statements, usually reserved for cases involving homicide charges.
“This is typically done in homicide cases,” Doherty said. “But I think it’s a good idea to let these folks have their say.”
In all, 12 victim impact statements were read, but sobs were heard from the gallery before a word was uttered. Joann’s parents, Monica and Randy Weeks, fought to compose themselves at the bench as they spoke about their daughter, one of their five children.
“All the endless possibilities are gone forever and destroyed by the reckless, unthinking act of one person, who should be held accountable for the devastation he’s wrought on so many people,” Randy Weeks said. “ … I’ll never get to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, never play with her children, and never will she be there to comfort her mother and me in our old age. Never again will I hear her tell me what dork I am. … I have never felt such pain in my entire life.”
Friends shared stories of laughter, love and breakthroughs, including one of them revealing his sexual orientation with her help.
Joann Weeks would have turned 23 on Sept. 6, her mother said.
“In many ways, Joann was the capstone of our family,” she said.
She shared stories of her daughter’s childhood, her passion for justice, children, animals – right down to the tiniest creatures, including her pet cicada she brought along for bike rides in her basket before carefully placing it back in the yard, where it would wait, she said.
As the Weeks family and their friends gathered outside the courthouse, Monica Weeks spotted a cicada in the tree.
“We know she’s still here – she’s played little games with us,” Randy Weeks said.
“She touches our life daily,” Monica Weeks said.