A Laurel woman whose drunk-driving crash killed a passenger in 2015 was ordered to serve seven years in prison after admitting her guilt.
“Praise God … thank all of y’all and my children,” Jessie Mae Windham, 48, said after getting a hug and a Bible from her son just before being taken into custody by Chief Deputy Mitch Sumrall of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department.
Judge Dal Williamson called the incident tragic before accepting the plea agreement that was reached between Assistant District Attorney Dennis Bisnette and Windham’s attorney Jeannene Pacific. Windham pleaded guilty to DUI-death of another.
“When you make the decision to drive under the influence, you’re responsible for what happens, and someone lost their life as a result of your actions,” Williamson said, noting that Windham’s blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit that night. “I hope you will become a different person going forward. I hope you make good decisions.”
In addition to the prison time, Windham was ordered to serve three years on post-release supervision under the Mississippi Department of Corrections, participate in the court’s community service program and pay $3,000 in restitution to the family of Eugene Collins to cover his burial expenses. Windham was facing up to 25 years in prison.
Collins was one of three passengers Windham was driving from a Laurel nightclub in September 2015 when she slammed into a concrete barrier near the Chantilly Street exit on Interstate 59 and the vehicle flipped over on top of Collins, who wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, Bisnette said.
Laurel police officers smelled alcohol on Windham’s breath at the scene, but she refused to take a breath test. They got a warrant to have blood drawn from her and she registered .15 percent, Bisnette said. The legal limit is .08 percent.
Bisnette said he was prepared to call witnesses from the LPD, the surviving passengers and people who were at the club that night.
“Witnesses said they all had been drinking, except one, but (Windham) didn’t want him driving her car,” he said.
Windham stood before the judge with her arms folded, shaking almost uncontrollably, saying she was cold and “extremely nervous and feeling like she’s going to fall,” Pacific said. She asked if her client could sit on the front pew with her son, and the judge allowed that.
When Williamson asked the standard question if she was under the influence of alcohol or any other drug that would affect her ability to think clearly, Windham said, “All of the above.” She then clarified, through Pacific, that she was only on medication that had been prescribed by her physician.
Windham was diagnosed as a paranoid-schizophrenic, Pacific said in earlier hearings on the case, but she was deemed competent to stand trial after undergoing a psychiatric evaluation. Pacific filed a motion to dismiss the case for violating Windham’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial in August 2019, but Williamson denied that motion.