March 29, 2017
Family Wants Justice For Son's Death
WESH.com--Family Wants Justice For Son's Death
Justin McWilliams' Family Wants To Update Old State Law
Mark McWilliams says he'll never get over the loss of his son, a baseball fanatic who played catcher for West Orange High School.
At 3:30 a.m. on April 7, 2002, Mark's son, Justin, and his friends jumped a fence to return to the scene of a camp-out on private property where they'd had words with some young men earlier.
Nearly three years ago, two groups of friends clashed in the field off county Road 535, WESH NewsChannel 2 reported.
Accounts of what happened that night vary wildly. Most of the kids had been drinking, but in the end, 20-year-old Justin McWilliams was dead.
Justin Allen, 18, was behind the wheel of the truck that hit McWilliams. Allen was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death, but charges were dropped.
It turns out that the state has no jurisdiction to prosecute traffic crimes on private property, according to state statute 316.
"I was dumbfounded. We were dumbfounded by that order from the judge. We didn't understand it. We still don't understand it," said Justin McWilliams' mother, Jamie McWilliams.
The law dates back to when Florida was mostly rural, to protect ranchers and farmers.
" Do you see this as a loophole? Justin Allen not having to serve any time or go to trial for it?" NewsChannel 2's Wendy Chioji asked Randy Means, of the Orange County state attorney's office.
"I don't like calling it a loophole. We need to maybe make the law stronger so in cases like this, we have some prosecution authority, but again, that would not have stopped this poor young man from dying," Means said.
That's what JusticeforJustin.com is all about. Justin McWilliams' family, mostly his mom, is pushing to tighten up Statute 316 so police can arrest people for serious traffic violations on private property.
"If you get the law changed so it'd be possible to prosecute that on private property, is that enough? Is that closure for you?" Chioji asked her.
"That would be acceptance of what has happened to Justin, and it would mean that my son did not lose his life in vain," she said.
So, Jamie McWilliams is working to get the statute passed. State Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland and state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis are sponsoring bills to allow prosecution if someone leaves the scene of an accident with injuries or death on private property.
Jamie McWilliams is also launching a campaign to teach young people that there are consequences to their actions. She knows her son was drinking the night he was killed.
"It's not about vengeance. It's not about pointing fingers at this point in the game. It's about trying to maybe save another child, another family from going through the devastation and trying to bring to the attention of our youth what can happen when they just don't think," she said.
Justin McWilliams' sister, Ashley, was 15 when Justin died. She said her brother's death changed how she makes choices.
"I don't want to hurt my family. I don't want to hurt my friends that care about me. I always think about what my mom would say. I always have that in the back of my head," she said.
Justin Allen's dad, Butch, hasn't spoken to the media about the tragedy. In an e-mail to NewsChannel 2, he said that "there is no way for me to explain our side of the tragic accident without criticizing the McWilliamses, and that's the last thing I want to do." He said he doesn't resent Jamie McWilliams' crusade, but he doesn't want his son's name dragged through the mud over and over again either.
He also said his family "mourns their loss every day" and hopes that one day, they can sit in a room together and "start the healing process."
"It's dramatically affected my family and I'm sure it's dramatically affected theirs," Mark McWilliams said.
He also hopes the families will come together some day. He bears no ill will toward the boy who killed his son because he believes he'll meet up with his favorite ballplayer again.
"My faith and my belief is really what sustained me personally. I know where my son is, and I know that I'll see my son again some day, and that's a tremendous comfort to me," he said.