The Weeks family deserved a chance to speak publicly about their loss in DeKalb County court this week.
The law did not require it, and the officials who allowed it probably expected they would face criticism. However, Joann Weeks, 22, who was killed in a car crash in March, deserved to have people speak on her behalf.
For an hour and a half Tuesday in DeKalb County court, a dozen of Weeks’ family members, who made the journey from Iowa, took turns giving frank and passionate statements about their loss.
They spoke fondly and mournfully about Weeks, the youngest of five children, who was killed in a wreck on Somonauk Road near Gurler Road on March 7. Sometimes, they directly addressed Jacob Ensign, the 24-year-old Sycamore man who fell asleep behind the wheel that morning and collided head-on with Weeks’ vehicle. Ensign was found guilty of improper lane use, a misdemeanor crime, in connection with the crash.
“You cannot begin to fathom my pain,” Weeks' mother, Monica Weeks, 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.”
So-called victim impact statements are common at sentencing hearings, during which a person is accused of a crime such as murder or reckless homicide, but not a petty crime such as improper lane use.
It bears noting that Ensign apologized to Weeks' family members after he received a sentence including a $1,000 fine that will be donated to Tails Humane Society.
With a bachelor's degree already complete and plans to further her studies, Weeks was well on her way to being a productive member of our society. Her loss is a tragedy for her family, our community, and for the world that was deprived of her talent and potential.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato said there was not evidence to support any more serious charges against Ensign, and that there are about six similar cases open in DeKalb County.
We believe that Amato, who also apologized to the Weeks family, would have pursued more serious charges had he believed there was evidence to support them.
As state's attorney, Amato has said he wants to prosecute people to the fullest extent the law allows. To go beyond that could be just as unethical as not going far enough, even in a case where someone so promising was killed.
Judge Thomas Doherty, who presided over the case, agreed with Amato’s decision.
“I think Mr. Amato brought the right charge,” Doherty said. “It appears it’s the most Mr. Amato can do under these circumstances.”
The outcome of the criminal case did not please the Weeks family for obvious reasons.
However, criminal courts are not the only way that people can seek justice; the family could file a lawsuit and seek damages.
Whether they decide to do so is up to them. At the least, we are glad that local authorities gave Joann Weeks' family an opportunity to speak publicly about the person we have lost.