On Nov. 8, 1994, Pastor Scott Willis and his wife, Janet, started the day by voting in Illinois’ general election. One vote they cast was to re-elect Secretary of State George Ryan.
They then commenced a road trip to Milwaukee with the youngest six of their nine children, ranging in age from 6 weeks to 13 years.
On Interstate 94 a truck in front of them suddenly dropped what was later determined to be a 6-by-30 inch metal brace weighing 30 pounds.
Having no time to swerve or stop, Scott ran over the brace, which hit the gas tank.
The van instantly exploded into an inferno. Scott recalled:
It was just roaring flames coming up on both sides. I was yelling to get out of the car. Janet and I had to consciously put our hands into the flames to unbuckle the seat belts and reach for the door handles.
Janet fell out the door while the car was still moving. Benny was in the midst of the burning; his clothes were mostly burned off by the time he got out. The five youngest children, who had been asleep, died instantly.
Only they didn’t die instantly. Janet later wrote, in a letter read during George Ryan’s corruption trial in September 2006:
An accident report delivered to our home some weeks later related that there was some evidence of a struggle. Months later, the fire chief who was at the scene told me as gently as he could, “In this type of case it’s never really instant. …”
One of the first persons on the scene … ran from his car and saw our 13-year-old son, Ben, climbing out of the van right after me, his clothes aflame. He ran in a panic, but this man ran after him yelling, “Stop, drop and roll.”…
I saw my son moments later lying on the street as people tried to help him. He hardly looked like my Ben. His hair and eyebrows were gone, his burned lips made it hard for him to talk. But I was grateful to be able to talk with him, a brief sentence or two. He asked about the others, then said, “My feet are hot. …”
As I stood there, I suddenly was aware of searing, blinding pain in my burned hands; I could not imagine what my son who was burned over much of his body was going through. …
I found out that Ben was very much alert in the emergency room. … [An] attendant who was at his side … told me, “I believe he knew he was dying. He asked me to pray with him. He asked if someone would hold his hand; I couldn’t because of his burns.”
It was discovered the truck had bypassed inspection and the driver had illegally obtained his driver’s license from the Illinois secretary of state’s office in exchange for a bribe.
By the time all the pieces were put together, George Ryan had been elected governor. But there would be no second term. Long story short, Ryan was convicted for what came to be known as the Licenses for Bribes Scandal in September 2006 and began serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence in November 2007.
For almost a decade after the accident, Scott and Janet steered clear of anything having to do with politics in Illinois.
But in March 2003, the Willises decided a cause had arisen they would publicly support: the Illinois Choose Life specialty license plate endeavor, the proceeds of which would go toward adoption expenses of crisis pregnancies. They explained in a statement:
[Our] tragedy, the people of Illinois now know, was partially due to a licensing system … that had been abused for political greed and power. … We believe that offering this “Choose Life” specialty plate is one way this system can be cleaned up from its corrupt core and used for good.
Choose Life legislation was introduced in the Illinois Senate. It was directed to the Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by then-state Sen. Barack Obama, for vetting.
We (I was part of the endeavor) expected Choose Life had been sent to Obama to kill. Obama was well-known as a liberal’s liberal. Just before the hearing, ABC News reported Obama considered Choose Life “contentious.”
Obama was only echoing Illinois pro-abortion groups. According to news accounts, NARAL’s legal director labeled Choose Life “aggressive propaganda,” and the vice president of the Illinois National Organization for Women called it “a violation of free speech.”
The morning of the hearing we drove three hours from Chicago to Springfield. When we entered the scheduled hearing room, a throng of Chicago journalists and cameras were waiting.
The media anticipated this was going to be great political theatre. Obama had just announced he was running for U.S. Senate, and here he was controlling and opposing legislation Scott and Janet Willis supported. On top of that they were to testify in front of his face.
There was standing room only inside the hearing, and one could barely get through the crowd milling outside in the hall.
Obama opened the hearing and proceeded to call his own bills and those of friends. An hour passed. I grew impatient and embarrassed at Obama’s disrespect of the Willises.
Then, abruptly, Obama surprised everyone by canceling the hearing early to attend a Democrat caucus, he said.
Obama apologized to those he said had traveled long distances to testify, i.e., the Willises, but the meeting would have to reconvene the next day.
Obama knew exactly what he was doing. He knew Chicago reporters would not spend the night, nor would the crowd. He didn’t want cameras around to sympathize with the Willises and badger him about the demise of Choose Life at his hand.
He was right. Not many were present on March 13, 2003, when Obama and the Democrat-controlled committee voted to kill Choose Life.
Obama’s fanatical support of abortion extends not only to opposing legislation to save abortion survivors but also to opposing legislation to help mothers and families in need cover adoption expenses.
And Obama will roll over anyone standing in the way.