Crime

Driver had 'psychotic break' prior to fatal crash in Highland, ex-wife says

Scenes from fatal crash in Highland near park-and-ride

A two-truck accident killed a Highland woman just after 4 a.m. Friday on U.S. 40 at Kennedy Lane, near the park-and-ride in Highland. The crash killed 45-year-old Charlene Johnson and sent 36-year-old Wayne Stayton of Collinsville to St. Joseph’s
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A two-truck accident killed a Highland woman just after 4 a.m. Friday on U.S. 40 at Kennedy Lane, near the park-and-ride in Highland. The crash killed 45-year-old Charlene Johnson and sent 36-year-old Wayne Stayton of Collinsville to St. Joseph’s

A man involved in a fatal truck crash in Highland was in the midst of a "psychotic break" at the time of the crash, according a court petition filed by his ex-wife.

Three days after the crash, Wayne A. Stayton's ex-wife filed a petition seeking an order of protection against him, stating that he was a danger to their children.

Stayton, 36, of Collinsville, said after the crash that he was driving more than 100 mph, and he tested positive at a hospital for cannabis and benzodiazepines following the crash that killed Charlene Johnson on Feb. 23, according to police. The crash is being investigated as a possible aggravated driving under the influence/reckless homicide.

Prior to the crash, Wayne Stayton had a psychotic breakdown at his house in Collinsville, according to Stayton's ex-wife, Stephanie Stayton.

Following is a description of Wayne Stayton's behavior leading up to the crash, according to the application Stephanie Stayton filed for an order of protection against him:

On Feb. 23 at about 4 a.m., Wayne Stayton's 17-year-old son called his grandmother, saying his dad was "acting psychotic." The 17-year-old said Wayne Stayton grabbed his 7-year-old daughter out of her bed and ran down the stairs with her shouting, "Shaun is evil; they are coming for us right now. They are going to hurt you."

Wayne Stayton's brother's name is Shaun, according to Stephanie Stayton.

According to the petition, the daughter was screaming at her dad not to take her while her father said she was "going to be safe with the angels now and no one will ever hurt you again."

The 17-year-old said he got his sister away from his father and hid her. Wayne Stayton left the house and drove away with "no shoes, no coat, no phone and no bank card," leaving the children home alone.

Within the hour, Wayne Stayton crossed the center line of U.S. 40 in Highland and struck Charlene Johnson's vehicle head-on, killing her.

The 10-year-old son said his father regularly went to Highland "where he gets things I'm not allowed to see" from an apartment that "smells like weed," according to Stephanie Stayton's petition.

When Stephanie Stayton spoke to her children after the accident, they said their father had been using drugs in front of them, left them home alone often and "was seeing things that weren't there," according to the petition.

The daughter told Stephanie Stayton, "Dad took all the door knobs so no one could get in and hurt us."

Stephanie Stayton said the night before the accident, her ex-husband called her saying he wanted to "make amends" and said he was sorry for everything leading to their divorce in 2012.

"He said he was not right in the head because counseling was bringing up old feelings and he started new medication," Stephanie Stayton said in an interview Tuesday. "I thought it was a good thing; I thought he was taking responsibility for our divorce and he was on the step in AA where he was making amends."

Wayne Stayton told her he "did not know who he is anymore" and was not mentally stable. He said he did not know what was real or fake and asked her to "please protect our children," according to the petition.

Stephanie Stayton said the two divorced in 2012 because of his substance abuse problems but to her knowledge, he had gotten clean.

"I've known Wayne almost all my life. I never, ever would have thought the kids were in danger at all," she said in the interview.

The day of the crash, however, her children started telling her for the first time about their father's drug use and erratic behavior.

"I was immediately at their schools; I talked to their teachers and told them what was going on," she said.

On Feb. 26, she filed the application for an order of protection, which sought to prevent Wayne Stayton from having any contact or communication with their two children: a 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to save my children. In that moment, he had a mental break and I did what I had to do for my children," she said in the interview. "They just thought their dad was protecting them. Obviously, I need to protect them so he doesn't hurt them, even if he thought in some way he was helping them."

The Staytons filed for divorce in 2012. Stephanie Stayton also filed for an order of protection against Wayne Stayton in 2012 and in 2015, he filed for one against her. Both were voluntarily dismissed.

A hearing for Stephanie Stayton's new application for an order of protection is scheduled for March 15 in Madison County.

Wayne Stayton has not been charged in Madison County in connection with the crash. Illinois State Police on Tuesday said they were still investigating and waiting on lab results to determine if any marijuana was in Stayton's system.

Johnson, who was killed in the crash, was described as a hard worker with a big heart, who worked as a union laborer and volunteered for the Alhambra Jaycees.

"I can only imagine what that woman's family is going through," Stephanie Stayton said. "If I have all these questions, I couldn't imagine what their questions are that are unanswered."

The day of the crash, Illinois State Police filed for a search warrant for the gray 2011 GMC Sierra that Wayne Stayton was driving. The search warrant request stated that Stayton, after the crash, said he had been driving more than 100 mph.

Court records in St. Clair County indicate Stayton had a previous DUI charge in 2000 that was dismissed in 2002 after Stayton completed outpatient alcohol treatment and two years of court supervision. But again in 2002, he was arrested in Madison County and pleaded guilty to DUI. It was dismissed after he once again completed two years of court supervision.

Illinois State Police Capt. Timothy Tyler said Stayton had a valid license at the time of the Highland crash.

After the crash, Stayton was taken to an area hospital, and later transferred to Saint Louis University Hospital for treatment of a broken leg. It could not immediately be determined Tuesday whether Stayton was still hospitalized.

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