ELGIN, Ill. (STMW) — When an Elgin man and his passenger saw a white Econoline van wandering all over the roadway as they drove along I-90 toward Elgin on Oct. 20, they figured the person behind the wheel must be drunk and dangerous.

But they had no idea how much.

That driver was an Elgin resident, roughly 54 years old, named Juan Diaz — or perhaps Juan DeLeon, or perhaps Juan Diaz-DeLeon, or perhaps Manuel Diaz or Filadelfo Delgado or Enrique Ortiz or Juan Hernandez Morales or Thomas Lopez. Police believe he has been convicted of driving under the influence of liquor at least 15 times and has had his driver’s license revoked four times for driving impaired.

Now the mystery man — let’s call him “Diaz” — may finally be taken off the street for years. He sits in the Kane County jail, charged under an Illinois law that classifies a sixth DUI conviction as a Class X felony — punishable by six to 30 years in prison, with no chance of probation.

“How someone could accumulate that many arrests and still be driving, I don’t know,” said Elgin Police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault. “The police departments do everything they can to keep an habitual offender like this off the road, as evidenced by the number of arrests.”

Chasing the drunk

Diaz’s latest run-in with the law began at six minutes before midnight on Saturday, Oct. 20. Driving west on I-90 approaching Elgin, the witnesses spotted something so dangerous that they felt they couldn’t ignore it. A white work van, with the name of an upholstery service painted on its side, was swerving between tollway lanes and almost hitting other vehicles.

So they called 911, said they were following a drunken driver and said they would stay on the line, telling the police where the offending van was, until a squad could be vectored in and stop the van.

Or until it crashed.

With the witnesses following, the van exited the tollway at Dundee Avenue and went into downtown Elgin along the central artery of Dundee Avenue/Center Street/Villa Street. The van’s driving did not improve, according to the witnesses.

“While following the vehicle in Elgin, they observed it cross into oncoming traffic several times,” police Officer Travis Hooker wrote later. At one point the vehicle made such a fast turn that the vehicle almost flipped over. It drove into oncoming traffic to adjust for this fast turn. The vehicle made a right turn onto Gifford Place and stopped.

Moments later, two squad cars appeared, containing Hooker and Sgt. James Roscher. They soon were joined by a Spanish-speaking female officer. The witnesses, who had parked behind the van, pointed to a man who had gotten out of the van and said he had been its driver.

The driver had no form of identification or insurance card and claimed he had never held a driver’s license. He told the officers he had been driving from a friend’s house east of Elgin and while there he had drunk two beers. Roscher said the man had slow, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and the odor of alcohol.

At first, Hooker reported, the man said he was Juan Diaz, had been born on April 4, 1964, and was 52 years old — numbers that did not add up. Diaz did not seem to comprehend this. He said he was born in Texas and did not need someone to translate for him in Spanish.

Diaz claimed that he had not been driving on the tollway at all. He had just been visiting his wife’s nearby home and, after she drove up in the van, he had simply come out of the house to park the vehicle.

The driver failed sobriety tests.

A familiar face

At the police station, the man said he was named Carlos Diaz and that he had been born in 1958. He then said his name was Juan DeLeon and he had been born April 7, 1958, then April 4, 1958, then April 17, 1958.

They scanned in his fingerprints into a database, and it kicked back a list of people who had been arrested who had similar markings. Then they looked at the mug shot photo in each of those arrest records to see if the person’s face was the same.

The officers were able to locate a photo of a previous arrest in which Diaz used the name “Juan Diaz.” He held an Illinois driver’s license, but that had been revoked because of at least one conviction for driving under the influence.

The photo comparisons convinced the investigators that this was also the same man who was wanted as “Juan M. Diaz-DeLeon” with the same birth date but a different driver’s license number, on a warrant from the Illinois state tollway police on a charge of aggravated DUI. And that driver’s license, they saw, also had been revoked by a court because of past DUI convictions.

They decided this also was the man wanted on an arrest warrant from DuPage County for a burglary charge under the name “Manuel Diaz” with yet another different Illinois driver’s license number, which also had been revoked because of a DUI conviction.

Altogether in Illinois, the officers’ photo research concluded, this man had been convicted of DUI in various jurisdictions 15 times; had his licenses — each under a different name and license number — revoked four times; and been convicted of driving with a revoked license four times.

His Illinois convictions, Elgin police allege, stem from one arrest in 1989, four in 1990, one in 1991, one in 1997, two in 1998, one in 2000, two in 2001, one in 2002, one in 2003 and one in 2007.

Police would not provide details about where each of these arrests occurred or the sentence passed on Diaz in each case.

Also, police believe, Diaz may have been convicted of DUI twice in Texas, under the names Juan Hernandez Morales and Thomas Lopez.

Diaz’s charges as a result of the Oct. 20 stop include aggravated DUI with six or more previous DUI convictions, a Class X felony; two other forms of felony DUI; aggravated driving with a revoked license after four or more previous DWLR (driving with license revoked) offenses, which is a Class 4 felony; misdemeanor DUI; and driving without insurance.

A judge has set his bail at $250,000, and he is being held in the Kane County jail pending a hearing on Nov. 8. If he provides the $25,000 bond down payment needed to get out of the Kane jail until his trial, he also would have to deal with the charges from DuPage County and the tollway police before he could go free. And Elgin police say the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency also put a hold on him.

The Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office said it is still gathering information about his exact number of priors. Because of his number of aliases and the commonness of his name, that will take time to determine.

The number of aliases he has used is “hampering us” as it gathers information to fully determine his criminal history, the office said.

According to the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, which collects the results of academic studies about crime and policing, repeat drunken drivers comprise a relatively small proportion of the total number of drivers but are disproportionately responsible for alcohol-related crashes and other problems associated with drunken driving. Anywhere from one-third to three-fourths of drivers arrested for drunken driving have previously been charged with the offense, CPOP says. CPOP reports that by some estimates, the average drunken driver will drive while impaired between 80 and 2,000 times for every time he is apprehended. If that ratio is accurate, Diaz/DeLeon/Diaz-DeLeon/Delgado/Ortiz/Morales/Lopez may actually have driven impaired not 15 or so times, but 1,200 to 30,000 times.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)