I-Team: Jessica Williams -- Almost 8 Years After Tragedy - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Jessica Williams -- Almost 8 Years After Tragedy

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Jessica Williams in court in 2005. Jessica Williams in court in 2005.
Jessica Williams in 2008. Jessica Williams in 2008.
Jessica Williams was interviewed by George Knapp in 2004. Jessica Williams was interviewed by George Knapp in 2004.

A thick layer of trash along I-15 on the way to the Apex Landfill is more than an eyesore. It's also dangerous. Next month marks the eighth anniversary of a terrible tragedy -- the deaths of six teens who were picking up trash in the highway median. The woman who struck them with her car was sentenced to as many as 48 years in prison.

Jessica Williams spoke exclusively to the I-Team's George Knapp about her case and the garbage problem that helped to ruin so many lives.

"It's a big event in my everyday thoughts," said Williams. She doesn't need a calendar to remind her when the anniversary of that dark day is drawing near. She can feel it.

She spent the first few years of her sentence in the Clark County Jail and then the North Las Vegas Women's Prison, a frail emotional wreck, so tortured with guilt that she was on a near-permanent suicide watch.

Her new home -- a conservation camp in Northern Nevada, cold and barren but a welcome change for Jessica. It's a minimum security honor camp. Not a garden spot by any means, and still a prison, but much better for her mental health. She's not a teenager anymore, looks healthier, but ask about her case and you find the darkness just below the skin.

"There is this big dichotomy in my life, where I know it's right to fight for myself and I know I should be, but I still feel extremely guilty and I don't want to stand up for myself and I'd really just rather not be alive," she said.

But in her corner from the beginning are attorney John Watkins and Ellen Bezian. They've been to the State Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court, and now have a motion in Federal District Court, all on their own dime.

"And when you go off or endeavors currently, she is very morose and sullen," said Bezian.

Watkins and Bezian still think Williams' treatment is a disgrace. Williams admits she smoked marijuana the night before she plowed into six teenagers who were picking up trash on I-15, part of a county initiated program. The jury ruled she was not impaired but rather, that she fell asleep at the wheel. Yet an obscure part of Nevada law mandated her conviction on DUI. She received six consecutive sentences.

Read the Talking Trash Blog -- Add your comments

"It makes no sense at all because the jury, based on all the evidence, found she wasn't impaired. And if you weren't impaired, why are you in jail for a DUI? That is totally unfair," said Watkins.

A contributing cause of the tragedy, in the lawyers' view, is the trash on the highway and the county program that put kids out there to pick it up. Trial judge Mark Gibbons, now on the Supreme Court, would not allow the jury to even hear such arguments. Nearly eight years later, the trash is still blowing on the highway and people are still out there picking it up.

"You'd think that based on this tragedy, that it would be a clean highway now. Apparently no one seems to care," said Watkins.

When Scott Garner heard back in 2000 that there'd been an incident on the highway, he was sure his 14-year-old son was okay. He and the other parents waited for hours for definitive news.

"They called and asked for the parents of Scott Garner, and I thought, son of a bitch," said Garner in a 2002 interview.

Garner eventually forgave Williams, but not the county or the garbage company. He started his own surveillance program seven years ago, and recorded the same images we still see today -- garbage flying out of trucks bound for the dump.

Time passes slowly for Jessica Williams. She has a job in the prison kitchen, gets letters from pen pals and rare visits from family members. She wants people to know that remorse is her constant companion. She asked us to convey a message... again.

"I just want to say that clearly right now, how sorry I am. And I know words don't really mean anything in that sense, they don't make anything better and I am sorry, and I just...."

"I think you've conveyed that before," said George Knapp.

"I hope they know that," she said.

Williams says she's been told there is no point in applying for parole. She's not going to get it until long after she drops all of her appeals. Lawyers Watkins and Bezian say they will fight for Williams as long as it takes.

You can voice your opinion about the Apex trash problem by clicking here.

Email your comments to Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp.
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