Undercurrent

Jessica Williams likely to be freed after 19 years in prison

By: - June 4, 2019 3:21 pm
up for parole

Jessica Williams, Nevada Department of Corrections photo.

up for parole
Jessica Williams, Nevada Department of Corrections photo.

After six appearances before the Nevada Parole Board, one for each of the young lives that ended when Jessica Williams fell asleep at the wheel in 2000, Williams, who has spent half of her life in prison, may finally be freed.

Williams was returning to Las Vegas from the Valley of Fire when she fell asleep at the wheel on a desolate stretch of Interstate 15 north of Las Vegas, where juvenile offenders were performing community service by picking up trash on the highway.  

Because Williams, who admits she smoked marijuana the night before, had two parts per billion marijuana metabolites in her blood, the threshold level prohibited under the law, she was convicted under the state’s prohibited substance law, even though a jury found she was not impaired. She was sentenced to 48 years.

Williams told parole commissioners Monday she’s already working and hopes to remain at Casa Grande, a transitional housing facility in Las Vegas for offenders nearing the end of custody.  The commission has granted Williams’ request for parole at each of the prior five hearings.  

Williams broke down as she told the parole board her life in custody since the accident has been an attempt to make up for her actions.

“I don’t know what I can do on the outside,” she said.

“You’re 40 years old. You have a life ahead.” said Commissioner Susan Jackson, who told Williams to honor her victims by living a purposeful life.

“Jessica has earned the ability to move forward with her life,” Kristina Wildeveld, Williams’ co-counsel, said in a statement to the Current. “There will always remain a deep sadness of the loss of life in this case, but small solace in knowing the situation can never be replicated because of the reforms that came out of this tragic car accident.  Clark County recognized that people should not be forced to be on the side of the freeway to perform community service.”

Wildeveld is assisting Williams’ longtime counsel, John Watkins, in the final stage of the case.

Parole board members noted that Williams has an exemplary record in custody and has completed all programming available to her.

Williams, who has spent half of her life behind bars, will find out later this month if her parole is granted.     

Since Williams’ conviction, Nevada has legalized the medical use of marijuana and in 2016, the recreational use. Billboards on Interstate 15 invite tourists from California to visit any one of a variety of dispensaries just a stone’s throw from the Strip.  State and local taxes on sales exceed expectations.  

But despite the presence of marijuana dispensaries throughout Nevada, the driving law remains the same.  

A Congressional Research Service report issued in May says Nevada is one of five states in the nation to establish per se (in itself) laws, which consider only the amount of the substance in the blood, but not whether the driver is impaired as a result. 

Nine states have zero tolerance for traces of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) or marijuana metabolites, which can remain in the bloodstream for weeks in regular users.  Three states have zero tolerance for traces of THC but no law for the presence of metabolites. In Colorado, drivers with 5 nanograms of THC can be prosecuted (a nanogram is a billionth of a gram). The law allows for a “reasonable inference” of impairment, but does not assume it, as the law does in Nevada.

A continuing resolution passed by the Nevada Legislature this week orders a study of a number of factors related to driving and cannabis.  The study will include:

  • Scientific evidence relating to driving under the influence of marijuana   
  • Arrest and conviction data from Nevada and any other state that has legalized the use of marijuana in any capacity
  • The approaches other states that have legalized the use of  marijuana have taken to address the issue of driving under the  influence of marijuana
  • New or existing technologies for establishing impairment
  • How changing the law may affect workers compensation, employment and labor laws

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.

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