Jessica Williams likely to be freed after 19 years in prison

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
Dana Gentry
Reporter | 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 is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.

25 COMMENTS

    • I said they were doing community service for infractions of the law. I used to be a thing that they could work off their fines or they were sentenced to community service. They still do it in Montana. Kids who get caught paint curbs, clean highways, parks etc. They are supervised by the governing agency.

  1. Let her out all ready, when the state payed the families of the poor souls who life’s where taken that day off was evidence enough they were in the wrong place put there by the state.Thi could have happened to ANYBODY!

  2. This was a horrible thing. They were kids who had to complete community service. They had them picking up trash in the area between North and South 1-15 as well as on the sides of freeway. That was a very big issue. They should have never been there in first place.

  3. They were from the juvenile court cleaning up trash on the road. I remember this well. It was tragic all around.

  4. Hoping her night terrors and nightmares have subsided. Her outbursts of cries in the middle of night, were so sad.
    I have faith she will succeed in anything she wishes. In my opinion,
    she will shine in an education environment. Her head was always in the books. Cheers, Jessica ..Hope you find your nitch out here. Someone needs you on their team.
    ( hopefully a parent willing to take a chance on you for tutoring will read this) Good Luck.

  5. As a mother of a child that was there that day, it’s hard for me to even think about this. But the kids should not of have been on the side of the freeway picking up trash. There were other things that the kids could have been doing. As for Jessica, she had more than marijuana in her system. She should NOT have been behind the wheel. Yes it can happen to anyone. But only you can make that choice. Pyramid of any kind means don’t get behind the wheel!

  6. Finally after her life was ruined! Not saying the lives that ended that day did not matter but it was nothing more than a horrible accident that could have happened to anyone. at that time there was no scientific proof that pot impairs your ability to drive which she said she smoked the day before. My question is what were these kids doing out there in the first place with no Warning Signs for about 3 miles before. When anyone is out there working it is the law for warning signs to be out there but there wasn’t. When her attorney brought up that fact the judge would not allow any talk of that. I believe because then the county would have been responsible which is who the judge works for. Her family lost every thing defending her. I remember seeing on the news about the families that lost someone in the accident didn’t say anything about their lost kids only that someone needs to pay them some money. The girl didn’t deserve 19 years for falling asleep at the wheel when there were no warning signs that any one was out there. But they needed to shut these families up and ruin the lives of Jessica’s family because they had a business and a little money so the blame wouldn’t go to the county. so sad all of the way around.

  7. This is unreal!
    She fell asleep at the wheel and was sent to prison, for how long?!!
    This whole situation is beyond sad, but my gosh a young woman nods off while driving along ‘The Middle of No Where”. Those juveniles had no business there and as one who has lost so many and know the pain on several levels, I am sorry for the family’s losses. Her’s and these boys.

    • I did not have a choice where the state put my child to do the community service. At the time said child lived with the father, neither one informed me of the community service until I received the information about the incident. Fact still remains that Jessica had more than marijuana in her system at the time (she tested positive for more than 1 drug). She took the lives of 6 young people.
      I’m not saying she needs to remain in custody, but there are people who do the same type of thing and they get charged with DUI and murder or vehicular homicide. Not DUI causing substantialy bodily harm. It makes it seem as though the young people’s lives that were lost were not as important (so to speak). I have watched her very closely and she did have to leave casa grande house to go back to prison for a little bit.
      I do hope if she is granted her permanent parole that she finds a way to give back to the community.

  8. I was 15 and doing the same thing on the I-15 for shoplifting a few years before that happened. Release her, but give her 10 years probation and call it even.

  9. I am hard pressed to think of another person that’s crossed my path that was such a nice, genuine, kind hearted individual as this woman. Her story blows my mind! I’m certain she will become all that she envisions herself to be. I’m tempted to further comment about the Justice system in Nevada but respectfully refrain from doing so… Other than that it is in desperate need of reform! Sending love and well wishes to Ms. Williams.

  10. Free this woman! She has done way more than enough time. And pot is not the blame. Falling asleep was! Get over trying to always blame an accident for being on drugs!!

  11. Why was she so tired that caused her to go to sleep is my question not what was in her system. People who drive should remember her because of the reason of her falling asleep. Drugs did not cause it then what did maybe it will help others to make sure when they get behind the wheel what can happen. She has paid a high price as well as the families and her own family. Don’t make the same mistake she has paid enough she has to live every day of what she did that alone is punishment she will carry for there’s of her life.

  12. Let her go. People who murders someone gets out faster. It wasn’t the pot. She smoked it the night before unlike Alcohol where you have a hangover. Driving on a staight highway puts you to sleep. Also why wasn’t there any cop cars with their lights flashing to make people aware what’s going on a head. Free the lady. She got more time then a rapist or a killer. It was a accident not do on purpose.

  13. frankie norton, im very sorry for your loss, however i did time with jessica an shes a very smart and helpful person and kind hearted young woman that never belonged in that place. it was an accident and the suffering she puts herself throught on a daily basis is more harsh then any prison sentence. You stated she had a choice to get behind the wheel, your absolutely right, as so did you for allowing your child to work on side of a freeway like that. The justice system is to blame here period. i understand your anger but clearly your pointing it to the wrong person. its been 19teen year its time to let go of all this hate.
    FREE JESSICA WILLIAMS…

    • I did not have a choice where the state put my child to do the community service. At the time said child lived with the father, neither one informed me of the community service until I received the information about the incident. Fact still remains that Jessica had more than marijuana in her system at the time (she tested positive for more than 1 drug). She took the lives of 6 young people.
      I’m not saying she needs to remain in custody, but there are people who do the same type of thing and they get charged with DUI and murder or vehicular homicide. Not DUI causing substantialy bodily harm. It makes it seem as though the young people’s lives that were lost were not as important (so to speak). I have watched her very closely and she did have to leave casa grande house to go back to prison for a little bit.
      I do hope if she is granted her permanent parole that she finds a way to give back to the community.

  14. So how many people have ever slightly fell asleep behind the wheel or have been so exhausted you know you should have pulled over but you didnt and kept pushing??
    I am guilty of that….
    I was locked up with Jessica as well, never knew her personally but knew the story well and knew she did not belong in there. She was a great role model, read a lot, cried a lot, a very sweet girl that got charged for an accident that could of happened to anyone of us. I am a Mother and this would be my worst nightmare however I would not hate Jessica nor blame her. I would blame the state for having these kids on the side of the feeeway! I too used to clean up trash like that on the feeeway many times and those cars are so close to you, your hair and clothes catch wind of the moving vehicles from how fast they are driving! Scary! Jessica has done her time and never folded while she was locked up and she became better, that is strength! God has a plan for her and I dont believe its behind bars for any longer. I guess someone needed to be the Guinea pig to change state laws and not have these kids on the feeeway…. I pray for all the families involved, God Bless!

  15. I also did time with Jessica. I was in for DUI with a death. I can sympathize with her. We did not do anything on purpose. We will however live with the consequences of our actions. Jess is one of the most respectful, loving people that I have ever known. Good luck to her. I hope to see you on this side of the fence SOON Jess.

  16. I happen to know this beautiful woman… She has the kindest most sincere heart of anyone I have ever met in my life. It’s your time to shine my beautiful friend… I lived you and believe in you always

  17. Jessica William’s is my best friend. She helped me through my prison sentence. I did 16 yrs for having 10 nanograms in my system, when my truck flipped and 2 children died. Shes my hero. She always worked toward bettering herself, and NEVER forgot why she was incarcerated. Time may move on, but we’ll NEVER forget. Part of us died with those children. Now it’s time for us to help make the state aware of what they’ve done by legalizing marijuana. Something HAS to change. It will not be in vain!!

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