Drunk drivers will face tougher penalties under a new Tennessee law that makes them financially liable for the children left behind after a tragic accident.
Cecilia Williams came up with the idea after her son Cordell Williams, 30, her soon-to-be daughter-in-law Lacey Newton, 25, and her four-month-old grandson Cordell Williams, Jr. were killed in a drunk-driving accident in Missouri on April 13, 2021.
“They didn’t ask for that. They didn’t ask to lose their parents,” she said.
Bentley and Lacey, Cordell and Lacey’s other children, were left behind.
“Bentley’s Law” would force a person accused with murdering a parent while driving while inebriated to pay child support to the victims’ surviving children until they reach the age of 18 and have graduated from 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 defendant is unable to pay, they will be granted a year following their release to begin making payments, which may vary based on their income. If a kid reaches the age of 18 but has not yet been fully compensated, payments will continue until the youngster is entirely compensated.
Williams thinks that the rule will encourage individuals to think carefully before driving while inebriated and to recognize that their actions might have terrible repercussions.
“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 advocating for the law’s passage in all 50 states. Bentley, the couple’s eldest child, inspired her to name it “Bentley’s Law.”
Williams has been caring for her two grandchildren since the disaster. She acknowledged that it has been difficult for her family and stated that she does not want to see another family go through the same ordeal.
Attorney Jay Kennamer of Chattanooga agreed that the measure is a good idea if the money is really paid. “Collectability is a very serious concern,” he said, because most persons who commit vehicular fatalities don’t have the financial resources to pay for the damages they cause, let alone 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.
Cecilia’s cousin Diane Sutton, who lives in Cleveland, brought the idea to Tennessee because she thinks it’s a “wonderful law” that should be implemented everywhere.
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.
The death of three family members in such a terrible disaster is heartbreaking beyond words, but Williams is relieved that something great is emerging from the tragedy. Their family was overcome with emotion when they learned that House Bill 1834 had been passed.
“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.”