Prison ordered for drunk driver who killed grandmother out Christmas shopping

The man killed a grandmother in a car accident who was Christmas shopping.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (WZZM) - A man with a history of drunk driving is a “continuing threat’’ who deserves a lengthy prison term for a December crash that killed a grandmother out Christmas shopping, an assistant prosecutor said.

James Michael Williams had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit when he drove through a flashing red light on the Northeast Side, killing 63-year-old Judith Besemer. The grandmother of seven was Christmas shopping.

Related: Man accused of killing grandmother in drunk driving crash is a repeat offender

“The defendant knew he was a continuing threat to the public, that he was a danger to the community, and then he drove in intentional indifference to the safety to the community,’’ Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Alex Grimes told a packed courtroom on Tuesday, Sept. 26. 

Williams in August pleaded guilty to drunken driving causing death for the Dec. 22, 2016 crash at East Beltline Avenue at Knapp Street NE. The felony offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Sentencing guidelines called for a minimum term of about 2 ½ to 4 ½ years, which Grimes called “wholly inadequate.’’

Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan agreed. He sentenced Williams to between 7 and 15 years in prison, saying prior drunk driving convictions and a high blood alcohol level could not be ignored.

“When I leave here today, I’m going to leave here comfortable that under all the facts and circumstances as I understand them, it is an appropriate sentence,’’ Sullivan said.

The victim’s son addressed Williams prior to sentencing, saying the death of Judith Besemer has had a devastating impact on the family.

“I would like Mr. Williams to know that the lying, the deceitfulness and not taking responsibility for his actions ends today,’’ Justin Besemer said through tears. “Maybe we can stop another family from going through the devastation that my family has endured and maybe save some lives while we’re at it.’’

Defense attorney Keary Sawyer read a letter on Williams’ behalf, expressing his client’s remorse.

“I accept full responsibility for this tragedy and will continue to live with its realization every day for the rest of my life,’’ Sawyer said, reading from the letter. “I’m not presenting any excuse nor blaming anyone else; I just wanted to tell you personally that I’m very, very sorry.’’

Williams, 51, had drunk driving convictions in 1989 and 1995. He was cited for driving with open intoxicants in 2010.  Williams was involved in an accident in March 2016 while driving on a restricted license. His license was then revoked.

Williams was driving a 2008 Cadillac east on Knapp Street NE when he ran a flashing red light, striking Besemer’s car, which was northbound on East Beltline Avenue.

The crash happened about 12:45 a.m. at the intersection near Knapp’s Corner shopping center, about three miles from Besemer’s home. Williams also lived in the area.

Williams appeared to be intoxicated and told police he had been drinking alcohol, court records show. He failed sobriety evaluations at the scene. Breath tests conducted at the Kent County Jail showed he had a blood alcohol level of .22 percent on one test and .23 percent on a second test, court records show.

A warrant was authorized Jan. 17 charging him with OUIL causing death; a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He had been free on a $50,000 bond.

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