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Man found on I-88 died of hypothermia

Maintenance worker, cop dispatched after 911 calls, remained for hour

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 3:02 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 2:45 a.m. CDT
(Philip Marruffo/
Police work at the scene along Interstate 88 where the body of Lee Catlin of Bettendorf, Iowa, was found Nov. 13.

DIXON – A Bettendorf, Iowa, man whose body was found along the side of Interstate 88 just west of Dixon in November froze to death, the Lee County Coroner's Office said.

Lee Catlin, 65, was found dead the morning of Nov. 13, almost 12 hours after two 911 calls were made by drivers who reported seeing a man lying on the shoulder, waving his arms.

When he was found the next morning, Catlin was clothed in just one shoe, socks, sweatpants, a shirt and a jacket. The temperature in Dixon the night before had dipped into the mid-teens.

The coroner's report showed that Catlin died of hypothermia, and that at the time of his autopsy, his blood-alcohol content was 0.105, higher than the legal limit. He also was found to have severe cirrhosis of the liver.

State police Maj. Jim Winters said that after extensive interviews with family members, police still don't know where Catlin was going or what he was doing so far from his home.

According to information provided by CGH Medical Center, hypothermia occurs when more heat is lost than the body can generate, and its onset can happen more quickly if someone has consumed alcohol before spending time in the cold.

Dr. Paul Steinke, president and CEO of CGH Medical Center, said alcohol causes the blood to flow to the body's surface more quickly – increasing the release of heat from the body.

Hypothermia sets in once the body's temperature drops below 95 degrees, Steinke said, and once it reaches 75 degrees, it's almost impossible the revive the victim.

A person will become disoriented and confused as the body temperature falls, and eventually will die of multiple organ failure.

Steinke said that in conditions that Catlin encountered on that November night, it would be difficult to stay alive for longer than 3 hours from the time hypothermia set in, and death could come much sooner.

A radio dispatch log released to Sauk Valley Media through a public records request provides details of the search for Catlin's body.

According to the log, a state police officer and an Illinois Tollway maintenance worker were called to the area the night of Nov. 12, immediately after the first 911 call was received about a man lying along the road. Tollway maintenance workers often are called to help troubled drivers, Maj. Winters said.

The first call was placed at 8:24 p.m. by 50-year-old Ray Specht.

Click here to listen to the first 911 call

Specht was driving his semitrailer east, he said, scanning the highway for deer when Catlin's waving hands caught his eye. He called 911 and relayed the location to the dispatcher – mile marker 51.5, about 3 miles west of the Route 26 exit at Dixon.

At 8:27 p.m., two cars responded to the call – the state police officer and the maintenance worker. The officer said he could arrive at the area in 20 minutes. The maintenance worker was closer.

At 8:31 p.m., the maintenance worker found Catlin's car on the side of the interstate, about a quarter of a mile west from where Catlin's body was found the next morning. The car showed no signs of damage, the worker said. He left the car and continued his search for Catlin.

Later, Winters said, investigators discovered the car's gas tank was empty.

The maintenance worker and officer reported that they continued to search the area, driving back and forth along the highway.

Meanwhile, at 8:40 p.m., a second 911 call was made by Bob Brouch, who, along with his wife, spotted Catlin waving his arms in the same area – immediately west of mile marker 51.5, he told the dispatcher.

Click here to listen to the second 911 call

"We've already got that call sir," the dispatcher said. "We've got somebody en route."

A call was placed to the Dixon toll plaza to see whether workers had anyone report a man along the side of the highway. They said they had none.

The maintenance worker and officer remained in the area for almost an hour, even checking a nearby gas station. The officer, Winters said, pointed his spotlight along the shoulders of the interstate, in the area where he thought Catlin might be.

The next morning, another maintenance worker spotted a shoe on the right shoulder and backed up to get another look. He then saw Catlin, wearing just one shoe, lying in the ditch.

According to the autopsy report, the only injuries Catlin had were some cuts to his upper body. Nothing, Winters said, indicated he was a victim of a car crash.

Catlin, a longtime teacher, was charged with drunken driving in Davenport, Iowa, just 4 days before his body was found along the tollway.

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