Cecilia Williams, who came up with the idea, lost her son, daughter-in-law-to-be and 4-month-old grandson to drunken driving.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 3, 2022. It has since been updated.
A new law passed in Tennessee will require drunk drivers to pay child support in cases where the parent is killed in the accident they caused. The bill was unanimously passed in the Tennessee House. It states that a person convicted of killing a parent, as a result of intoxication or aggravated vehicular homicide, will be required to pay child support for the surviving children until they’re 18 and graduate from high school. Cecilia Williams proposed the law after losing her 30-year-old son Cordell, her daughter-in-law-to-be, Lacy, and their 4-month-old son Cordell II to an accident involving a drunken driver on April 13, 2021. The couple left behind two children, Bentley and Lacey. Cecilia Williams called it the “Bentley’s Law,” reported The Black Wall Street Times.
It was Bentley's grandma Cecilia who came up with the idea to make Bentley's Law.— Bryanna Idzior WTVC (@BryannaWTVC) March 2, 2022
“They will always remember, this is what I did to the family, you know, and it will sink into them. I can't do this again. You know, I'm supporting children that aren't mine," she says. pic.twitter.com/F8rIpiaZym
She named the law after her 5-year-old grandson. Williams said no amount of money will make up for the loss of life but hopes the law will help ease the financial burden of kids who are orphaned due to the accident resulting from intoxication or aggravated vehicular homicide. “They will always remember, ‘this is what I did to the family,' you know, and it will sink into them. 'I can’t do this again.' You know, ‘I’m supporting children that aren’t mine,’” she said, referring to HB 1834. The bill was sponsored by State Representative Mark Hall. “It definitely sends a message that drunk driving in the state of Tennessee is no longer tolerated,” said Hall.
In case the defendant is incarcerated and is unable to meet the child support payments, they will be given one year after their release to begin payments. If the child reaches the age of 18 without being paid the money in full, the defendant will be required to continue with the payment until the child is fully paid. “I want to thank Mark Hall, and all the co-sponsors of the bill, and I want to thank Diane Sutton for doing such an amazing job at helping get Bentley’s Law in Tennessee,” said Williams.
The bill is inspired by "Bentley's Law". Bentley is a 5-year-old boy from Missouri who lost his parents and baby brother in a car accident caused by a drunk driver in April 2021. pic.twitter.com/Vjl5hwfdCG— Bryanna Idzior WTVC (@BryannaWTVC) March 2, 2022
"Driving under the influence changes lives every day. Children are left without a parent/parents because someone made a choice to drive while impaired. The financial support of the parents for the child/children is gone. Many find the impaired driver has no insurance and in most cases no assets to compensate for the children to collect that are left without the parent/parents," read the description of the group posted by Williams.
This bill requires that no child maintenance be ordered if the surviving parent or guardian brings a civil suit and obtains a judgment prior to the sentencing court ordering child maintenance payments. If the surviving parent or guardian brings a civil suit and obtains a judgment after child maintenance payments have been ordered, then the child maintenance order will be offset by the amount of the judgment awarded in the civil action. Bentley’s Law has been passed in the state House and will be sent to the state Senate, where it is expected to pass. The bill will become law once signed by Governor Bill Lee.