Repeat drunken driver sentenced in grandma’s death

Judy Besemer died hours after December 2016 crash caused by James Williams

James Williams
James Williams' mug shot from the Kent County Correctional Facility. (Jan. 18, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A repeat drunken driver who hit and killed a Grand Rapids grandmother days before Christmas will spend at least seven years in prison.

A Kent County judge Tuesday sentenced James Michael Williams to seven to 15 years in prison for operating while intoxicated, causing death in the December 2016 crash that killed Judy Besemer.

“I’m very, very sorry,” Williams told the court.

“I take full responsibility. I shouldn’t have been driving,” he added.

The victim’s son asked the judge for the maximum sentence of at least 10 years.

Justin Besemer addresses the court ahead of the sentencing for a drunken driver who hit and killed his mother. (Sept. 26, 2017)

“I think he should be looking at a lot more time than that. Unfortunately the way the laws are written, and the ways thing are for drunk driving, they seem to be really lax, especially with something as severe as killing somebody,” Justin Besemer said before the sentencing.

“If the penalties are more severe maybe it will have people thinking twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking,” Justin Besemer added.

While Williams’ sentence is not the maximum possible, the judge exceeded minimum sentencing guidelines, which called for at least 2.5 years to 4.5 years in prison.

Williams was driving east on Knapp Street in Grand Rapids Township around 1 a.m. Dec. 22, 2016, when he ran a red light at the East Beltline and plowed into a vehicle driven by Judy Besemer. Besemer, a 62-year-old grandmother of seven, died hours later at the hospital.

Williams told Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan that he had seven or eight beers “throughout the day” before the crash. Tests that night put Williams’ blood alcohol content level at .22 and .23, nearly three times the legal limit to drive.

“He made a choice. He chose to drink, he chose to drive and he should be held responsible for his actions just like the rest of us are,” said Justin Besemer.

Williams pleaded guilty to a charge of operating while intoxicated causing death in August. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a charge of operating on a suspended, revoked or denied license causing death.

The assistant prosecutor told Target 8 the plea deal was “intended to ensure” a prison sentence for Williams. Prosecutors were concerned about possible weaknesses in their case, since there was no autopsy on Besemer’s body and police did not take measurements at the scene of the accident.

Williams was previously convicted of drunken driving in 1989 and 1995.

Target 8 previously discovered a third DUI arrest in 2010 never led to criminal charges. In the 2010 case, a breathalyzer test on came back with a BAC level of .25, which was later confirmed by a blood test at the hospital. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department told Target 8 it never sought a warrant due to a gap in its record-keeping system, a loophole officials say they have since closed.

“He’s been able to wiggle his way out of trouble before… not this time,” Justin Besemer said.