“Do you have a son? What’s his name? How old is he? He has been in a serious accident, please come immediately.” Those were the chilling words Jamie and Mark McWilliams heard from a nurse on duty at Health Central Hospital in the early morning hours of April 7, 2002. This call is every parent’s worst nightmare.
On April 7, 2002, 18-year old Justin Allen, who was under the influence of alcohol while operating his vehicle, ran over and killed 20-year old Justin McWilliams, as he and his friends were exiting a party being held in a pasture in Winter Garden, Florida. After running Justin over, Mr. Allen left the scene, despite being emphatically told by the 911-Operator to stay there until the police arrived. While the incident occurred at 3:30 A.M., the blood alcohol test wasn’t administered until 7:00 A.M. Mr. Allen’s extrapolated BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) was .062. It should be noted that the legal drinking age in the State of Florida is 21-years old, and while Florida is a zero tolerance State for underage drinking and driving, and even though the driver was 18-years old, because he didn’t register above .08, he was not initially charged.
As the months passed, the McWilliams Family continued to seek answers in Justin’s death. They found it incomprehensible that you could run someone over with your vehicle and leave without consequence. Then on September 3, 2002, the Orange/Osceola State Attorney’s Office filed charges against Justin Allen for Leaving the Scene of an Accident with a Fatality, pursuant to Florida Statute 316.027 (1)(b). However, the Charge was subsequently dismissed for Lack of Jurisdiction. Apparently, Chapter 316, State Uniform Traffic Rules, didn’t apply.
A little known “loophole” in the Florida Statutes omitted private property and private roadways, not traveled by the public, from Chapter 316. The exception to this rule would be that the owners have a written agreement authorizing the jurisdiction for enforcement approved by the governing body of the County for county traffic control jurisdiction. In this case, there was no agreement, and the case was dismissed.
With the conflicting statements of the young people involved that early morning, the videotaped deposition of former Orange County Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. William Anderson was ascertained by the McWilliams’ Family Attorney, Russell Troutman (it should be noted that Elliott Wilcox the Assistant State Attorney handling the criminal case was invited to attend this deposition; however, no one from the Orange/Osceola State Attorney’s Office appeared). In this deposition, Dr. Anderson confirmed, under Oath, that Justin McWilliams’ injuries were consistent with the fact that he was struck and run over from behind; that his body was in fact found laying the same direction the vehicle was traveling, some several feet from any type of alleged hole that he was to have fallen into.
Despite the on-the-record testimony of Dr. Anderson and the emotionally charged 911-Tapes, the State of Florida chose not to file additional charges against Justin Allen in the death of Justin McWilliams.
Rather than remained consumed in anger and sadness, the Family chose to move in a more positive direction in memory of their son. In an effort to keep this type of tragic situation from occurring again to another family, they opted to change the Florida Statutes, via Legislative Intent, and close the loophole that enabled the driver of the vehicle that ran over Justin to walk away without consequence.
Always take the opportunity to talk to the young people in your life about choices, consequences and accountability. We can make the difference!