Bentley’s Law Would Make Drunk Drivers Pay Child Support After Fatal Crashes
Under consideration in Tennessee, the law was created by a grieving grandmother who’s raising her grandkids.
Drunk drivers beware: don’t mess with this grieving grandma. She’s fighting to make you pay for all of the consequences of your actions, including paying child support for any kids left without parents or guardians.
After experiencing an unthinkable loss in 2021 at the hands of an alleged drunk driver, Cecilia Williams wanted to make a difference while getting justice. That’s why she wasn’t satisfied that the man who allegedly killed her son, his fiancée, and her newborn grandson while driving intoxicated only faced charges in their deaths. She wanted him — as well as other drunk drivers — to have to pay child support as she raises her surviving grandchildren.
On April 13, 2021, David Thurby was allegedly driving while impaired in Missouri and slammed into the back of a car that Williams’ son, Cordell Williams was in. He was killed along with his 4-month-old son, Cordell II, and the baby’s mom, Lacey.
Per CBS News, Thurby’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He also reportedly told a trooper he'd had "seven shots of Crown and water," according to court documents.
Despite allegedly being the cause of this life-ending crash, Thurby only suffered minor injuries.
“Someone decides to play God and take their lives and end it for them. It’s unfair,” William’s sister-in-law, Tiffany Johnson, told Fox 2 Now following the accident. “[Lacey] was driving, she had her seat belt on, and the guy hit them from behind. Officers say they lost control and ended in a ditch and their car caught fire instantly.”
The couple is survived by two older children, 3-year old Mason and 5-year old Bentley. Williams stepped in to care for them. “It was unexpected, but more when someone careless and reckless makes a simple decision. You could take a Uber or walk home but you also took a 4-month-old baby,” added Johnson.
According to CBS News, Thurby has since been charged with three counts of driving while intoxicated, causing the death of another. He was also charged with operating a motor vehicle in a careless manner and possession of synthetic marijuana. He’s still awaiting trial and is scheduled to face a jury in September, per KFVS 12.
But Williams wasn’t satisfied just yet. In the months that followed, she created "Bentley's Law," which unanimously passed the Tennessee House earlier this month. Named after her oldest surviving who is mourning his mom and dad, Bentley’s Law would require anyone convicted of killing a parent as a result of driving while intoxicated, to pay child support for their surviving children until they turn 18 years old and graduate from high school.
In other words, "The main aspect of Bentley's law is financial responsibility by the offender,” Williams previously explained to KMOV.
Which is something this grandma needs to see happen after suddenly finding herself in the unexpected position of raising young children. “I can't do this again. You know, I'm supporting children that aren't mine," she told News Channel 9.
“They deserve to get that compensation because you're talking about raising children that their parents are no longer here," she added to CBS News.
After Williams came up with the idea, her cousin, Diane Sutton, is the one who got the ball rolling and brought the bill to Tennessee. “It's really just a great law, and it should be nationwide," she said.
Otherwise known as Bill HB1834, Bentley’s Law still needs to go through the state's Senate before heading to the Governor, who is expected to then officially sign it into law. However, Chattanooga attorney Jay Kennamer notes that even if the bill is officially passed, there’s still a potential issue.
He told ABC News Channel 9 that it will be hard for victims to actually get those child support payments. “Collectability is a very real problem, and predominately the ones that cause the vehicular homicides, most of them don't have the means to pay the damages they cause," said Kennamer.
However, he agrees that even so, the bill is still a great idea as an added layer of accountability for drunk drivers. "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 added.
But the bill does try to take this into account, and includes a provision that if the incarcerated drunk driver can’t pay, they're not off the hook. He or she will have one year after being released to start paying child support — and will have to keep paying the monthly support, even after the child turns 18, until they’ve fully paid the entirety of what’s owed.
While no amount of money will bring Williams family back, she’s proud of the impact their legacy is having. The bill isn’t just about monthly payments; she hopes it will make would-be offenders think twice before getting behind the wheel while drunk. “It's hard, because I would love to have them here, but them three really are making a difference in other people's lives.”
The law is also being introduced in other states, including Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
Even if the law passes and the offender is able to pay, it's a long way off. For those looking to support Williams and her grandkids now, Johnson created a GoFundMe to help her raise money for the kids.
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