A new law passed in Tennessee will subject drunk drivers to harsher consequences by requiring them to be financially responsible for the kids left behind after a fatal accident.
Cecilia Williams thought up the bill after losing her son Cordell Williams, 30, her daughter-in-law-to-be Lacey Newton, 25, and her four-month-old grandson Cordell Williams, Jr., to a drunk-driving incident on April 13, 2021, in Missouri.
“They didn’t ask for that. They didn’t ask to lose their parents,” she said.
Cordell and Lacey left behind their two other children, Bentley and Lacey.
“Bentley’s Law” would require an individual charged with killing a parent as a result of driving while intoxicated to pay child support for the victims’ surviving children until they’re 18 and done with high school.
“They will always remember, this is what I did to the family, you know, and it will sink into them,” the grandma said. “I can’t do this again. You know, I’m supporting children that aren’t mine.”
If the person can’t pay, the defendant is given a year after their release to begin payments, which will vary depending on the individual’s income. If the child turns 18 but hasn’t been paid in full, payments will continue until the child is fully paid.
Williams hopes that the law will teach people to think twice before driving under the influence and understand that their actions may have serious consequences.
“By making it a financial responsibility, it’s going to take that burden off of the families who are already suffering from the loss and a loss that should have never happened,” she said.
Williams is also pushing for the law to be passed by all 50 states. She decided to call it “Bentley’s Law” because Bentley is the couple’s eldest child.
Since the accident, Williams has been taking care of her two grandkids. She admitted that it has been challenging for her family and said she doesn’t want to see another family go through something similar.
Chattanooga attorney Jay Kennamer agreed that the bill is a good idea if the money actually gets paid. He noted that “collectability is a very real problem” because most people who commit vehicular homicides don’t have the means to pay for the damages they cause, let alone pay child support.
However, he thinks the bill is a fair punishment for the grave offense.
“If you go out and drive drunk and kill someone in a wreck as a result of the intoxication, it’s a foreseeable damage, that you’ve not only affected them, you’ve affected their whole family,” he said.
Diane Sutton, Cecilia’s cousin who lives in Cleveland, brought the bill to Tennessee, believing it’s a “great law, and it should be nationwide.”
State representative Mark Hall sponsored the bill, which was unanimously passed by the House with 93 votes.
“It definitely sends a message that drunk driving in the state of Tennessee is no longer tolerated,” the lawmaker said.
Losing three family members to such a senseless accident is devastating beyond words, but Williams is happy that something positive is coming out of this loss. Finding out that House Bill 1834 had been passed proved to be an emotional moment for their family.
“It’s almost been a year since we lost them and to have an emotion of a happy feeling and to cry with happy tears is a first. It’s the first in almost a year,” she said.
“So that feeling to me to know that their lives [are] going to help other people. To me, that means a lot. And I know that they’re watching down on us and it means a lot to them.”
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