"I'm not going to sit back and allow this to continue to happen to other families," she said.
Cecilia Williams lost her son, his fiancé, and her grandson over a year ago, to a horrific car crash. The accident was caused by a drunk driver, and the loss of her family has deeply impacted the woman. When Cecilia heard the news, "I remember screaming, screaming, screaming," she said. "It's been hell ever since." She could only get herself to tell her grandsons, who were with her on the night of the crash, that their parents were no more. "I said, 'God came and took your mom and dad and your baby brother to heaven.' And Bentley looked at me with such shock on his little face," Cecilia recalled.
Even the smallest of things remind her of the family she's lost, like a random pencil she came across that she remembered her son, Cordell, once looking for. Or, the corner of the yard in her home where Cordell and his fiancée set off party poppers with their young boys to celebrate one 4th of July.
Creator of Bentley's Law, Cecilia Williams, bravely shares the story of her family's tragedy to prevent others. Grandma Raising Late Son's Kids Fights to Make Drunk Drivers Pay Child Support: "I'm Not Going to Sit Back" https://t.co/nVzSw8cjoN via @people— MADD (@MADDOnline) September 23, 2022
"When you lose a kid, you see them in everything," Cecilia told PEOPLE. But the one thing that constantly reminds her of her loss is the questions of her two grandsons, Bentley, 6, and Mason, 4, who were orphaned by the crash and are now being raised by Cecilia and her husband Shawn. For months after losing his parents, Bentley would keep asking the same question over and over: "Do you think they're still dead?"
"We think they're doing okay," said Cecilia of the boys. "But then there are the hard moments. We all have a hard time every day." What's heartbreaking is that this is not a rarity. In 2020 alone, 11,654 people were killed in DUI crashes in the U.S. — that's one person every 45 minutes, per statistics. This means that there are thousands of children without a parent. "I talked to so many people who'd say the same thing: The person that killed their family member didn't go to jail. When [the case] went to court, they would spend zero time, and they'd just get probation," Cecilia said.
In July, Tennessee became the first state to pass 'Bentley's Law,' which requires drunk drivers who kill a parent to pay child support until the child is 18. https://t.co/VToDlhKLTv— KHOU 11 News Houston (@KHOU) August 6, 2022
Having experienced the loss first-hand, Cecelia decided to come up with something that would help the drunk drivers realize the pain that they cause to others. So, she came up with Bentley's Law, a proposal that would force offenders to pay child support for kids left behind when a parent is killed in a drunk-driving crash. "Some people love money more than they do life. So the way to teach a person and to prevent them from becoming a repeat offender and putting another family through this was to create something where they will have to pay," she said.
"I want offenders to see how families truly suffer, how their actions affect everybody," she added. "I'm hoping that it makes people think twice." Tennessee enacted a measure based on her proposal, and at least 10 other states have sponsored the legislation along the same lines since she started her campaign in the months following the crash — calling and emailing legislators throughout the nation while homeschooling her grandsons.
"Cecilia's very quiet, very polite, but she's got a little fighter in her. She wants to make sure kids get what they need," said Missouri state representative Mike Henderson, who introduced a Bentley's Law bill earlier this year and hopes to see it pass in the next legislative session. If it does, however, it won't be retroactive. "Cecilia would not benefit from this," he says. "She's doing it for other people. She's fighting for what she thinks is right."
Cecilia, who started a GoFundMe page to help her legislative efforts, is determined to honor the family she's lost with action. "I'm not going to sit back and allow this to continue to happen to other families," she said. "We want to show the boys that something good can come out of bad. Otherwise, all they will know is tragedy. I think Cordell and Lacey would be proud knowing that I'm not going to give up this fight."
Cover Image Source: YouTube | KCTV5 News