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Man's last days shrouded in mystery

DIXON – Lee Catlin, 65, a retired teacher from the Quad Cities, was headed east on Interstate 88 on the night of Nov. 12.

His blood-alcohol content was higher than the legal limit, according to the Illinois State Police. A few days before, he had been arrested on a charge of drunken driving in Iowa – unusual for a man with an apparently clean record.

No one knew where Catlin was going Nov. 12, including his family, state police Maj. Jim Winters said in an interview last week.

"We have exhausted all of the investigative leads," he said. "There's nothing for us to investigate."

From 8:24 p.m. to 8:46 p.m, at least three motorists on I-88 called authorities to report that a man was waving his arms while lying on the side of the highway.

No one apparently stopped to help Catlin. A state police trooper and a state highway maintenance worker were sent to looked for him – with no success.

On that cold night, Catlin died of hypothermia, police say. His body was discovered the next morning.

So, what happened?

Should the motorists who saw the man have stopped? Did the officer and maintenance worker try hard enough to find him? Did Catlin hide when he saw the police spotlight because he was believed to have been drunk?

For the most part, Winters declined to speculate on what happened. He believes the trooper used a spotlight to check for the man, who was reported to be at mile marker 51.5, about 4 miles west of Dixon.

"People saw him and called in. Then the calls stopped," Winters said. "At some point, there were people who either were driving by and didn't call or they didn't see him.

"I think people didn't see him. When you are driving 70 mph on a roadway that's not lit, you're not going to see the person."

Catlin's locked car – out of gas – was found about a quarter mile west of where his body was discovered.

'My favorite teacher in seventh'

Catlin, who lived in Bettendorf, Iowa, had taught science for 33 years at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Moline. When he retired in 2003, two former students praised him on the Rate My Teachers website.

"He was my favorite teacher in seventh," one said. "I'm so sad he retired."

Another said: "A bit loony, but all around cool! He was hilarious at times. Too bad he's gone."

Throughout his career, Catlin maintained a strong focus on technology, and during his time as student congress adviser, the school got its first two computers, according to a news release from the school that was written at the time of his retirement.

Catlin was chosen as Wilson's Educator of the Year in 2002-03. His hobbies included gardening, photography, hunting, fishing and spending time with his grandchildren. He had planned to spend plenty of time with his cat, Tabby, and his snake, Nibblet, according to the news release.

He left behind two daughters and five grandchildren, according to his obituary.

Interstate an 'anonymous' part of society

When someone is in distress, as Catlin was, are others likely to help?

It depends on the situation, said Kirk Miller, a sociology professor at Northern Illinois University.

"On an interstate, a lot of people are in their own pods, separate from other people on the road. It is a group dynamic," he said. "In public and group settings, responsibility spreads. It's easy for people to feel like they don't have any particular responsibility for this person.

"With more people, you would think there would be a greater chance for that one person to step up and assist that person. It turns out to be the reverse. When there is a single person, there is no question about who should assist that person in need," Miller explained.

What's more, he said, people fear stopping to help someone because they might be exposing themselves to risk.

"I don't think any female driver is likely to stop in that situation," Miller said. "At night, people are less likely to slow down, pull over and investigate."

That might not be the case on a less-traveled rural road, where people are likely to know each other, Miller said.

"The interstate is more anonymous than any other context in American society."

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